Wind-driven tree pollen plagues metro-area allergy sufferers

Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 10:20 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OLATHE, Kan. (KCTV) - Monday signaled the official start of spring, but spring allergies began with a bang weeks ago.

Dennis Patton, a horticulturalist with K-State Extension in Johnson County, said the pollen causing discomfort right now is harder to spot than you might realize.

“Most of the early season pollen happens before the plants leaf out,” said Patton. “The plants are flowering.”

The flowering he’s talking about isn’t showy blooms. The trouble in the Kansas City area doesn’t come from Magnolia, Dogwood or Cherry Blossoms, he said. The big early-season culprits here are the Red Maple, Juniper (also known as Red Cedar) and Elm trees. Their flowers are small, hard to spot without looking up-close.

Patton explained that showy blooms tend to be pollinated by insects. We should be so lucky. The Red Maple, Juniper and Elm trees are wind pollinated.

“The problem with our tree pollen is most trees are wind pollinated, not insect pollinated,” Patton explained. “So usually when it’s a wind pollinated plant, it’s smaller grains of pollen and more of them.”

Those early tree pollens are cropping up as soon as late February. A mild winter means spring allergies came early. It’s a trend that began several years ago, and that can make it feel worse too.

“Plants are blooming earlier in the spring and killing frosts are coming later in the fall,” Patton said. “So, there’s absolutely more days that pollen, allergens, mold spores can be out there floating in the air. And what happens is our resistance wears down. Because we’re just exposed. We’re bombarded more but these pollen and other irritants for a longer period of time.”

The next tree pollen to take off is Oak. Patton said that’s expected to hit in early April.

Antihistamines and steroidal anti-inflammatory nasal sprays are common ways to find relief, but doctors also have drug-free suggestions. Change clothes and shower after being outside to wash off the pollen. Be aware your pets can also carry pollen into the house if they’ve been outside. You might still have a stash of surgical or fabric face masks. Those can also protect you from breathing in pollen. But be sure to dispose of them or launder them once back inside, because they too will be covered in pollen.