Dr. Byol Shin in the Gwinnett Daily Post

Dr. Byol Shin, GC's expert in Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, was the featured allergist in a Gwinnett Daily Post article on the early pollen this season!

Climatologist: Pollen arriving earlier than normal, but peak still to come
By Curt Yeomans
Gwinnett Daily Post
March 19, 2017


This year’s unseasonably warm winter may have meant less time breaking out the heavy coats, but state climatologist Bill Murphey said it’s meant something else as well: An earlier pollen season.

Pollen counts started picking up in late January and the highest level — so far this year — was 1,289 on Feb. 20, according to Atlanta Allergy and Asthma, which tracks pollen counts for metro Atlanta.

Murphey said that most of the early pollen has come from trees with more of the grass and weed pollens expected to follow sometime in April. He expects things will get worse for allergy sufferers in the coming weeks as a result of the seasonal shift from winter to spring, which officially begins Monday.

“We definitely haven’t reached our peak yet,” Murphey said. “The real small pollen that affects people the most hasn’t gotten bad yet. It’s just getting ready to start showing up.”

Murphey explained the warm winter has caused pollen to come out earlier this year, with the rise and fall of the daily pollen counts coinciding with temperatures. Warmer temperatures means more pollen in the air, except on days when there is rain, he explained.

And it has been warmer than normal in Georgia this year.

“This is the second warmest winter on record for the state,” said Murphey, who added the records go back to the 1890’s.

He latter added, “We’re about 6.5 degrees above normal,” before explaining the average mean temperature this winter has been about 53 degrees.

While there have been 16 days since Jan. 24 where the pollen count was over 100, there have only been six days where it was above 200, including two above 500 and just one above 600, according to Atlanta Allergy and Asthma’s data. Comparing year to year, pollen counts above 100 didn’t start to appear until the last day of February in 2016, but they hit that level on Jan. 22 this year.

Gwinnett Clinic allergist Dr. Byol Shin said he noticed patients coming in last month to be treated for issues related to spring allergies. He said February is not usually a time for people to come in with these issues though.

“Normally we don’t see these spring allergies this early, but we started seeing patients mid-February this year,” he said. “Typically, we start seeing these patients in March, but this year, it’s been much earlier.”

What that means going forward remains to be seen, according to Shin.

“It’s hard to predict,” he said. “This year has been very unusual compared to other years, so we’ll see how it goes.”

The pollen count on Friday was 57, mostly driven by tree pollens such as pine, oak, birch, beech and elm. There was a small amount of sheep sorrel weed pollen in the air as well though. After a streak of four days from March 7 to March 10 where the count ranged from 123 to 251, it dropped down below 60 this past week while the temperatures dropped to freezing levels or slightly above.

In addition to pine, oak, birch, beech and elm, other tree pollens that have sporadically been in the air so far this winter have included juniper, maple, ash, alder, mulberry, sweet gum and willow.

The yellow dust that people associate with pollen comes from pine trees, but Shin said that type of pollen — while perhaps annoying for a person who doesn’t want it all over their car — is not as much of a threat as people might think. It just happens to coincide with the time when bigger allergy threats, such as grass pollens, are in the air.

Shin said he typically sees more patients come in with issues caused by grass pollens, which he and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America point to as a leading cause of pollen-related allergy problems.

“Normally, pine tree pollen doesn’t cause a lot of problems,” he said. “People think it’s related to their allergies but it coincides with other pollens as well … Typically, people are not allergic to (pine tree pollen).”

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says there are steps people can take to reduce the chances of pollen giving them an allergic reaction though.

These steps include what might seem like more basic steps, such as limiting time spent doing outdoor activities on days when the pollen count is high, limiting contact with pets that spend a lot of time outdoors, changing out of clothes worn for outdoor activities and taking allergy medicine before the season really begins.

Other steps the foundation recommends people with pollen allergies take, however, include:

• Taking baths and making sure to wash hair at night so any pollen picked up during the day won’t get on a person’s bed covers

• Washing bed covers once a week in hot, soapy water

• Wearing hats and sunglasses outdoors so pollen can’t get into a person’s hair and eyes

• Having a HEPA filter attached to home and car air conditioning units