Common Allergies in the Northeast US
RagweedRagweed, which is found in the entire United States, is common in larger densities throughout the Midwest and the Northeast states, making it one of the most common allergens for pollen production, forcing many people to see an allergist for allergy testing during high pollen level seasons. Ragweed plants only grow for a single season, but one single plant can produce millions of pollen grains during ragweed pollen season, releasing allergens in remarkable densities.
Around mid-August, ragweed plants begin to grow larger. At this time, which is often considered ragweed season, they mature and release their pollen into the air. The pollen can then travel for miles to fertilize other ragweed plants, which creates next year’s generation of ragweed.
In most cases, ragweed is found in rural areas. If you are near the plants, you will likely notice the worst concentrations of allergens (and the most severe symptoms) right after the morning sunrise. Although these plants are common in the countryside, people living in Northeastern cities can be exposed to their pollen, which is almost weightless and can travel for miles on the slightest breeze, causing everything from a stuffy nose to difficulty breathing.
Tree PollenAnother common source of seasonal allergies is trees. Like ragweed, trees release a pollen that is used for fertilization. Tree pollen is often the first allergen to be released every year, as many trees send out their pollen before grasses and weeds have developed to maturity. In the Southern U.S., trees can release their pollen as early as January, but in the Northeast region it often occurs in the spring. However, a particularly warm winter could trigger an early release of tree pollen by late winter.
Many different trees release pollen that causes allergies. Across the country, allergies are caused by trees that include cedar, oak, hickory, and many other species. Tree pollen is often finer than other types of pollen, allowing the wind to carry it even further. For this reason, people who are nowhere near trees can experience tree-pollen allergies.
Grass PollenGrass is another source for allergies in the Northeast. This is the common culprit for most people’s seasonal allergies, or hay fever, and having allergies to grass pollen can make for an extremely unpleasant spring or fall, which is considered grass pollen season. Grasses begin growing around early spring, but they don’t come into full maturity and pollen production until later in the season. They often release their pollen around late spring and early summer, making this grass pollen season a miserable time for allergy sufferers.
Like tree pollen, grass pollen is microscopic, so you can’t see it floating in the air. You’ll know if there is pollen nearby if you have allergies, however, as this allergen can cause sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy eyes, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Most allergy sufferers will notice the worst symptoms on windy summer days, when pollen is kicked around by the breeze and sent all over the area. Generally pollen counts are lower when the air is cool and the wind is calm, but there can still be pollen in the air during windy, calm, warm, cold, dry, or rainy days.
Particulate Matter (Dust)So far, we have discussed allergens that are made, essentially, by nature. Now we’re going to switch gears and talk about one that is made by mankind, although not exclusively. Particulate matter, or PM, is a mixture of solid airborne particles and water droplets. The particles can be made from dirt, dust, soot, and smoke, as well as many other materials. Sometimes the particles are large enough to be seen, while other times they are so small that they can’t be viewed with the human eye.
Particle matter is categorized by size. PM10 is the larger of the two categories. This includes all particles that are ten microns or smaller. A micron is a unit of measurement that equals one millionth of a meter. For perspective, most human hair is roughly 40 microns. The other category is PM2.5, which includes all particles that are 2.5 microns or smaller. These particles are extremely small (a red blood cell is 8 microns), so this includes a variety of fine, microscopic materials. In general, the smaller the material, the more harmful it can be to human health, as small particles can be inhaled and enter the blood stream, while larger particles are often sneezed or coughed away by our body’s natural defenses.
MoldOne of the most unpleasant of all allergens in the Northeast, mold releases spores that float in the air and are used for reproduction. Mold spores, like pollen, are extremely light, and can float through the breeze and land in virtually any area. This is a health concern for even the healthiest person, but if you have mold allergies, exposure to spores can cause sneezing, coughing, wheezing, and a general difficulty breathing.
Mold typically grows in damp and warm locations, so many areas, especially areas with lots of rain, can be subject to mold. Mold is common both inside homes and outdoors, so an allergic reaction can occur practically anywhere. Different types of mold may cause more severe reactions among some people, but understanding how to keep mold out through cleaning and air purification is essential for anyone with mold allergies.
A key to preventing mold growth is to keep relative humidity levels below 50%.
Allergy Prevention and Treatment in the NortheastThe top way to control your allergies and reduce an allergic reaction to pollen or dust is to avoid exposure to your allergen. It seems obvious, but if you are allergic to tree pollen and have reactions during high pollen levels, avoid tree pollen; if you have a reaction to particulate matter, avoid particulate matter like dust.
Sometimes, however, we need help understanding if our allergens are present. Fortunately, you can use many resources to learn about current pollen counts, which is extremely helpful if you have seasonal pollen allergies. For example, The Weather Channel provides regional information on tree pollen, grass pollen, and ragweed, making it a useful source for anyone with allergies. You can also use the EPA’s AirNow app for information on pollutants that may be causing allergic reactions.
Finally, you should consider using HEPA air purifiers in your home to deal with an allergic reaction. A HEPA air cleaner uses advanced filters to remove a high percentage of particles and allergens, leaving your home with cleaner air, which helps you feel better and could make it easier to sleep. These purifiers can remove pollen, making them a reliable tool during the spring and fall allergy seasons, but they also remove dust, dander, and can even remove smoke odors from your home. If you or someone in your household suffers from seasonal or year-long allergies, make sure you are helping them live a healthier life by providing cleaner air with a HEPA air purifier.