Share story

— Alaska’s warm, dry spring is bringing unpleasant consequences for people with allergies or asthma: some of the highest pollen counts on the planet.

Air-quality monitors Friday in Anchorage recorded a tree-pollen count of 2,862 grains per cubic meter of air, the Anchorage Daily News
reported. Anything over 100 is described as high.

Fairbanks usually sees the highest pollen counts in the state, and this year followed suit. A pollen count May 5 at the Tanana Valley Clinic recorded 3,675 grains per cubic meter of air.

The Anchorage reading last week was likely among the highest in the world for that day, said pediatric allergist Melinda Rathkopf of the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

“We rival anywhere, especially this week,” she said.

About 95 percent of the pollen counted in Anchorage comes from birch. Much of the rest is produced by aspen, spruce and alder.

“I just wiped off our outdoor table,” Rathkopf said. “The rag was yellow and green with pollen.”

People allergic to proteins in tree pollen suffer runny noses and irritated eyes.

Rathkopf said that staying indoors, keeping windows closed, installing an indoor air filter and hosing off outdoor pets can help deal with pollen.

Levels are highest in the morning. Rathkopf recommends doing exercise or gardening in late afternoon or evening.

Pollen can travel hundreds of miles by wind, so avoiding specific forests probably will not help.

“Not unless you get in a plane and fly somewhere very far away,” Rathkopf said.

Extreme pollen can trigger attacks for some asthmatics.

“There’s definitely an increase in hospitalization and emergency-room visits,” Rathkopf said.

Pollen typically peaks Memorial Day weekend, and Anchorage usually does not measure it until the second half of May. The high spring temperatures led trees to send off pollen early, said Bill Ludwig, a lead forecaster with the National Weather Service in Anchorage.

April was 1.5 degrees warmer than normal, and temperatures in May so far have averaged 7 degrees above normal.

Pollen is probably peaking now and should subside, Rathkopf said.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.