Working Out During the “Pollen Vortex”

Ian D. Keating/Flickr

What is the pollen vortex, and when is it coming to Toronto?

The springtime sequel to this winter’s “polar vortex,” the “pollen vortex”, is the arrival of all the pollens from trees and flowers in the Northeast region of North America that would have been budding earlier in the year were it not for unseasonably cold temperatures. Consider this: in Vancouver, the cherry blossoms have already bloomed and gone. Meanwhile, in Toronto, the cherry trees have only just begun to bud. They aren’t expected to bloom until the week of 10 May. Now imagine that same process playing out for every single plant in the region.

What does that mean? It means a sudden onslaught of pollen when the weather finally turns warmer, as all the trees, flowers, and grasses release their pollen all at once. Worse the damage to Toronto’s urban canopy during this year’s major ice storm means that many dead trees will be releasing one “last gasp” of pollen. It also means that for allergy sufferers, this year’s going to be a tough one. Spring is already a pretty terrible time for those with seasonal allergies, but this year’s going to be especially difficult.

So, what should you do? First, watch this live chat with an allergy specialist talking with the CBC. Second, get an allergy kit together.

Your allergy kit should include things like:

  • Your favourite allergy meds, whether they’re prescription or over-the-counter.
  • A neti pot or other natural nasal rinse. Remember that hydrochloride-based nasal rinses have a redoubling effect — they will decongest you for 12 hours, but you’ll have twice as much congestion later. Save them for when you’re making a big presentation or have a lot of other obligations during the day.
  • Travel-packs of facial tissue for purses and jackets.
  • Eye drops.
  • Hydrocortisone cream for skin irritations if you have reactive skin, or just a good soothing moisturizer that can help your skin deal with extra sensitivity to environmental irritants. Look for ingredients like calamine, chamomile, calendula, or oatmeal.
  • A good clay mask treatment for the skin, to draw out pollens and other irritants that can get embedded in the pores. (This same trick can also work on drawing out the irritants in mosquito bites.)
  • A humidifier, to help keep your breathing clear at night.
  • A HEPA or other air filter, to help keep allergens out of the air in your home.
  • A separate place to keep coats and shoes that have been outdoors away from your other clothes. This could be a dedicated closet or bin. The idea is to keep yourself and others from tracking pollens from the outdoors in through your home on their clothes and shoes.
  • A new inhaler or puffer. Pollen and other allergens can trigger asthma attacks in people with asthma or diminished lung capacity, and an inhaler can make the difference between a walk outside and a really scary experience. Plan ahead, and tell your loved ones where you keep your emergency inhaler in case they need to find it for you.
  • More laundry detergent. As you bring more pollens in on your hair and go to sleep at night, you’re exposing your sheets to allergens. If your allergies are especially bad, consider washing your sheets more often, or just investing in some new ones (this is the perfect excuse) to keep the rotation frequent. Find a fragrance-free detergent by looking for a baby-safe or baby-friendly brand. These are made for the most sensitive skin.

Avoiding pollen this spring will probably be difficult. Reconcile yourself to this now, and you probably won’t feel so frustrated when you actually notice it happening. Consider it your right to be annoyed at these rites of spring.