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High pollen counts add up to a severe allergy season

A runner wore a mask to protect from COVID-19 as she passed under flowering trees inside the Public Garden May 10.
A runner wore a mask to protect from COVID-19 as she passed under flowering trees inside the Public Garden May 10.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

If you have noticed coatings of pollen on your car or find yourself reaching for a tissue more than usual, you’re not alone. Experts agree we’re going through a particularly pesky allergy season this spring.

“The pollen count is so high you can visibly see the pollen now, and everyone is having a lot of difficulties with allergies,” said Dr. Sarita Patil, an allergist and immunologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

High amounts of pollen from oak, mulberry, and pine trees, along with grass, Patil said, have triggered a pretty tough allergy season that hasn’t shown many signs of improving.

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A mild winter and an even milder spring kicked off an earlier allergy season this year, Patil said. Warmer temperatures and fewer frosts allowed trees to start blooming in mid-March, rather than at the end of that month as usual.

The grass pollen season, which usually starts in May and lasts until August, also came early this year and hit Massachusetts as tree pollen season was still in full swing.

“All of the pollen seasons have blurred a little bit more,” Patil said. “I expect that because we had such a mild spring and were going into summer pretty strong, we’re going to have a long grass pollen season as well, which is going to go into a mild fall season with all of the weed pollen.”

Dr. Christina Cruz, an allergist at Tufts Medical Center, said climate change and human activity is “the main driving force” behind more severe allergy seasons.

“Climate change is causing the winters to become shorter and spring to arrive earlier,” Cruz said. “The shifting of the seasons causes the pollen seasons to start relatively earlier and they last longer throughout each year.”

Because carbon dioxide causes plants to release more pollen, Cruz said, emissions of carbon dioxide from cars, factories, and many human-driven activities play a role in how bad allergy seasons can be.

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“The more carbon dioxide that’s emitted, the more pollen is becoming released,” Cruz said.

Aerial footage shot by WHDH-TV Tuesday showed massive clouds of pollen floating above wooded areas on the South Shore. The station also reported that thick yellow clusters of pollen have been seen covering parts of the ocean.

Allergies are hitting people hard even though they have been indoors for most of the pollen season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Cruz and Patil said there are ways to find relief.

Keeping windows closed, vacuuming rugs, and washing clothes and linens more frequently, especially if they were outside, can keep pollen from invading your home. So can taking a shower after being outdoors, using dryers instead of hanging wet laundry outside on high pollen-count days, and bathing dogs frequently to remove pollen from their fur.

Also avoid going outside in the morning and early afternoon on high pollen-count days, Patil said.

If over-the-counter allergy medications and these tips don’t work, ask an allergist for help.

“Your local allergist is always happy to help take care of your allergies. We can identify what exactly you’re allergic to and help you to not feel so miserable,” Patil said.

A strong rainfall can bring some relief, even if it is temporary, but this season has not had much precipitation, according to the National Weather Service.

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Torry Gaucher, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, said the spring has been slightly drier than usual in the area. Boston saw below-average precipitation in March and April, and June has also been a bit drier than in years past, he said.

“We’ve been on a downward trend for precipitation, so obviously I think a lot of people are waiting for a nice heavy rain to wash out some of that pollen,” Gaucher said.

Caroline Enos can be reached at caroline.enos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @CarolineEnos.