During this past winter, as you may recall, the DC area had a great deal of snow. It was also colder longer and the early Spring was not as warm as it usually has been in the past. As a result, the trees were delayed in their pollination. Usually in the Washington, DC area, the early trees begin to pollinate in mid-February, however this year, pollination began almost 1 month late. It is important to understand that this delay did not simply displace the allergy season and cause it to end at a later time. What actually happened was that all the plants and trees needed to pollinate quickly and it appeared to occur all at once. The trees all pollinated in a shorter period of time rather than gradually releasing their pollen. The most accepted theory as to why there was so much pollen is that the wet snow primed the trees for pollination at a higher rate.
The rapid release of pollen caused an overwhelming abundance of pollen to appear so suddenly that allergy sufferers experienced an increase in the severity of their symptoms. In fact, non-allergic individuals also experienced allergy-like symptoms due to the irritant factor of the pollen grains. This condition is called nonallergic rhinitis or vasomotor rhinitis. Think of nonallergic rhinitis as the following: If someone would throw black pepper into your face, you would sneeze and your eyes would get irritated. Well, in a person with nonallergic rhinitis, when they are exposed to an abundance of pollen grains (which are synonymous with the black pepper grains), a similar phenomenon occurs where the pollen grains act as an irritant to the individual’s nose and eyes, thus causing sneezing, eye irritation, etc., which are also symptoms that patients with true allergic rhinitis or hay fever exhibit when they are exposed to pollen.
Luckily, individuals on allergy shots in DC this year were more comfortable than people who were not on them. Allergy immunotherapy (i.e., allergy shots, allergy injections, allergy desensitization) is a method that has been around for over 100 years that has been proven to be effective in 80-85% of individuals taking them. They generally take about 4-6 months to work, so it is necessary to take them throughout the year, so they are effective when your allergy seasons occur. Many allergy patients have perennial symptoms as they may be allergic to dust mites, molds, cats, dogs, cockroaches, and other animals. These allergens are always present, so these individuals have allergy symptoms throughout the year. In either case, allergy shots need to be taken year-round in order to be effective. The frequency of the allergy shots, however, may vary from person to person. They can be taken anywhere between 72 hours and 4 weeks, depending on the need required by each patient. Many patients vary the frequency within a year depending on their symptoms. An example of this is a patient who has mostly Spring and Fall allergies. In this case, that person may get their allergy injections every 4 weeks during the Summer and Winter and then increase the frequency to every 1 or 2 weeks in the Spring and Fall. Likewise, each person’s allergy serum is customized to their particular allergies that are determined by skin testing or blood testing when they are first seen for diagnostic testing to determine if and what allergies they may have. Allergy shots can be given to children who are in pre-school all the way up to the elderly. The average length of time on allergy shots vary, but usually range from 3-5 years.
Patients who have a short duration of allergy symptoms or who have mild symptoms are usually managed quite well without the need for allergy shots. There are a multitude of allergy medications that can be obtained over-the-counter or by prescription. There are also a number of avoidance and prevention measures that can minimize allergy symptoms. The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy diagnose and treat both children and adults and have been doing so for more than 5 decades in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area. We have 3 convenient locations, all featuring on-site parking. Our offices are located in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tyson’s Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA. The Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible with free shuttle service between the McLean office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line. If you have allergy, asthma, immunology, skin, or sinus problems, please call us for an appointment or you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours on the next business day.