Buckle up, allergy sufferers: the "pollen vortex" is on its way.
New York City may have finally emerged from the polar vortex, but the end of sub-zero temperatures doesn't mean the end of weather-related woes. In fact, health experts say, the unusually long winter has set the stage for a particularly rough spring allergy season throughout the Northeast.
While low temperatures delayed the onset of pollen production for the city's plants, the high levels of precipitation throughout the winter also left them "primed and ready to go," explained allergist Clifford Bassett of the Allergy & Asthma Care of New York. "It's priming the pump for a very robust pollen season."
Some allergy sufferers are already feeling the effects.
Hunter College student Ryan Davila, 23, from Rosebank, said that while he gets hit with allergies every spring, this season has been "a little bit worse" than usual.
Michael Hernandez, 35, a construction worker from Bedford-Stuyvesant, agreed. He said that while his symptoms have been mild so far -- "itchy eyes, sniffles, congestion" -- he can tell a difference from last year, when he "really didn't notice" any allergies.
Doll Balbader, 70, has a similar situation.
"It didn't bother me last year," said Balbader, a retiree from Long Island City, but this year she's already stocked up on Claritin and Benadryl and taken steps to avoid the outside air: "We have to keep the windows closed. We don't open them at all."
Andrew Ferguson, 28, said he takes a more aggressive approach.
"I just have permanent allergies year-round," said Ferguson, a salesperson from Westchester who works in Midtown, adding that they kicked into high gear in March. "Any kind - pollen, dust, mold." To cope with his symptoms, he said, he uses an over-the-counter nasal spray in addition to regular shots of allergy medication.
According to the website Pollen.com, which rates pollen count on a scale of 1 (low) to 12 (high), New York's levels so far this week have hovered in the 9-10 range. The "pollen forecast" shows a slight reprieve for Thursday as the count dips down to 7.4 before shooting back up past 10 on Sunday.
But the worst of it may still be yet to come. "Over the last few days, the pollen counts have gone up, but they're not necessarily extremely high yet," said Dr. Sebastian Lighvani of New York Allergy and Asthma.
Fortunately, Bassett said, there are some simple ways to make the season a little more bearable. "If you wear a hat or don't wear hair gel, you'll decrease the likelihood that you're turning your head into a pollen magnet," he said.
People should also wash their hair at night, he added, to rinse the pollen out of their hair before hitting the sheets.
Lighvani recommended that those with allergies should pay attention to the pollen forecast and plan accordingly: "If they can, they should avoid being out on very high pollen count days."