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High pollen counts expected this year

Patrick Hanlon, 7, of Geneva, with his mom, Nicole, gets his allergy shots from medical assistant Sharlinda Johnson at the Kaneland Allergy and Asthma Center in North Aurora.
Patrick Hanlon, 7, of Geneva, with his mom, Nicole, gets his allergy shots from medical assistant Sharlinda Johnson at the Kaneland Allergy and Asthma Center in North Aurora.

Residents with allergies might face a tough transition to warm weather this year, local experts said.

Remember the polar vortex? That long and brutal winter has delayed the growth of trees and the production of their pollen. Those with tree-related allergies might have enjoyed low pollen levels so far, but a “double whammy” allergy season could be in store, said Dr. Sakina Bajowala from the Kaneland Allergy and Asthma Center in North Aurora.

The tree season historically has begun in early to mid-March, but it didn’t get started until April this year.

That delay means the season will peak with high pollen counts during the grass season, which is expected to start this month like normal, Bajawala said.

“For individuals who are allergic, they can feel pretty miserable during that time,” she said.

Beyond the usual allergic symptoms of runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing, a combination of high pollen counts could trigger trouble breathing and wheezing.

An airway that’s inflamed from allergic triggers could develop into asthma, Bajawala said. She noticed her usual influx of patients came in later this year compared to past years.

Dr. Priya Bansal noticed the same thing at the Asthma and Allergy Center in Bloomingdale. Instead of activity in mid-March, Bansal started seeing patients come in two weeks later.

The polar vortex might have contributed, but the pollen counts collected in the Chicago area keep increasing year after year, said Bansal, the previous president of the Illinois Society of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Like Bansal, Beth Koch of Sugar Grove recommends that people take their allergy medications a month before the season hits.

“A lot of people don’t think ahead – they wait until [their allergies] are bad,” Koch said.

Koch said she used to bathe her son every day to make sure the pollen was out of his hair. She noticed he had spring allergies as early as two years old.

Koch recommends that parents start charting when their children display allergy symptoms; when they occur and what the weather was like at the time.

Treatment for the Koch family includes immunotherapy in the form of allergy shots, and over-the-counter medicine. Koch said it has made a world of difference for her family.

Another person who has thrived with immunotherapy is Tom Moeller of North Aurora. Moeller said he is allergic to “pretty much everything outside.” After missing two days of work in August with acute allergic symptoms, he began receiving immunization shots in December.

Moeller said he actually is excited for the allergy season because he wants to see if his twice-weekly series of three shots at the Kaneland Allergy and Asthma Center has been worth it.

“I’m hoping that people who are suffering from allergies will reconsider going in for treatment,” he said. “The way they’re done now as opposed to 20 years ago is more convenient.”

Know more
Some allergies are caused by various pollens in the environment. There are several pollen count stations certified by National Allergy Bureau across the country.

To get daily readings from the certified Chicago-area pollen count station, visit:

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