WILLMAR -- For most folks, the snowless winter and early spring have been supremely welcomed.
But there's a down side for those suffering from allergies: Their seasonal symptoms are kicking in way ahead of schedule.
"Definitely we're seeing an earlier start" to the allergy season this year, said Dr. Amy Ellingson of the Allergy and Asthma Specialty Clinic in Willmar. "Everyone is already starting to know allergy season is here."
Pollen is a major culprit, she said. The warm weather has prompted an early release of pollen, triggering congestion, the sniffles, wheezing and itchy, watery eyes among those allergic to pollen.
The lack of snow cover during the winter also brought about an earlier reactivation of mold spores, thereby adding to the misery.
Ellingson points to another factor as well: what's known as "priming," or the tendency for the immune system to react more strongly after prolonged or repeated exposure to an allergy-causing substance.
Ordinarily there's a reprieve during the winter when the plant life goes dormant and mold spores lie inactive underneath the snow. That didn't really happen this year. As a result, many people are now heading into spring with immune systems that are already primed to react with all the familiar allergy-related symptoms, Ellingson said.
What does it mean for allergy sufferers?
"It speaks to a longer season," Ellingson said. "I'm guessing May allergens will start earlier too."
For those with allergies, recognizing and knowing what triggers their symptoms can go a long way toward managing them, she said. So does starting a preventive regimen ahead of time, before the season gets fully under way for mold, pollen and other allergens.
"We've had to tell patients that a lot earlier this year," Ellingson said.
For many, it's going to mean limiting their exposure to fresh outdoor air perhaps sooner than they'd like.
"Everyone in spring wants to keep their windows wide open. We don't really recommend that for our patients," Ellingson said. "Much as we enjoy the warm weather, people with allergies pay for it unless they're under good control."