Boston Doctor Describes ‘Roller Coaster’ Allergy Season


The temperatures soared this weekend, and according to a few testimonials on Facebook, so did peoples’ seasonal allergy symptoms.

Patch checked in with Jessica Savage, instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate physician at Brigham and Womens’ Faulkner Hospital, to find out if this season has been worse than the past or if it’s just our sinuses telling us that.

Patch: Was there a resurgence in hay fever allergic reactions this past weekend due to the heat or do people just think there was?

Jessica Savage: I’ve definitely seen people with more severe symptoms lately, but I haven’t found evidence of higher than normal pollen levels. I think it’s just that typically spring and fall are really bad seasons and we’re experiencing the worst of the spring season right now.

Patch: So this is the peak?

JS: Yeah, it’s more that this is a typical peak in everyone’s symptoms rather than something unusual.

Patch: Do you think the peak was brought on by this past weekend’s heat wave?

JS: I can’t say for sure, but humidity and pressure can exacerbate people’s nasal symptoms so it may be kind of a coincidence with everything happening together.

Patch: How about locally? The South End isn’t a heavily wooded area of Boston.

JS: The main allergens that you’re concerned about this time of year are tree pollens. It really doesn’t matter if you’re in a wooded area or not because these pollen grains can travel hundreds of miles. Even people who live in the inner city with no trees around can experience hay fever symptoms because of tree pollen.

Patch: What specific tree pollens cause hay fever?

JS: It’s typically non-flowering trees. Regular old leaved trees make tons of pollen this time of year. So it’s not the decorative magnolia trees it’s just regular oak trees, etc.

Patch: For those who suffer from hay fever, what do you recommend?

JS: For typical hay fever symptoms a mainstay is a nasal steroid combined with an antihistamine. But there’s no single medication that’s a magic bullet for people with severe symptoms so often we have to find a regimen of several agents to help people get through their peak season. And if medication is ineffective then we turn to allergy shots.

Patch: What are allergy shots?

JS: We look to figure out which specific pollens or animals or molds people are allergic to and we use immunotherapy or shot therapy to build up a tolerance to the things so they have no further symptoms or their symptoms are much better controlled with medication.

Patch: When can people expect seasonal relief, in other words, when does allergy season die down?

JS: We’re heading into the tail of the tree (pollen) season but in about a month we’re going to start experiencing the grass pollen season. Some people are unlucky enough to be allergic to trees and grasses. It’s kind of like a little bit of a roller coaster in the warm weather.

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