PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Spring and pollen go hand in hand, something Chris Whitley can’t help but notice.
“You go outside, you’re trying to clean up the yard, and the nose just starts to clog up,” he said. “The eyes are itching, they water, it’s hard to see, you can build up pressure in your ears and your face. The post-nasal drip’s no fun.”
Now researchers have found COVID-19 infection rates and pollen counts can track together, too.
“Thirty-one countries, 130 regions across five continents, so it’s something that tends to occur everywhere,” says Allergy and Clinical Immunology allergist Dr. James DeAngelo.
This allergist has noticed it’s not just coronavirus.
“I have always seen an increase in viral infections that correlate with pollen,” he said. “These are influenza, common cold and other viruses.”
While asymptomatic people may unknowingly spread coronavirus with allergic sneezing, issues in the nasal passages and airways could play a role in susceptibility.
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Pollen can affect protective immune system proteins called interferons.
“Even if you’re not allergic, it seems these interferons tend to be dampened by pollen itself,” said Dr. DeAngelo.
The researchers admit the parallel pattern of pollen counts and COVID-19 rates could be influenced by other factors, such as temperature and humidity.
“Dry conditions make the pollen airborne a little bit more,” said Dr. Christine Rauscher, an allergist at the Allegheny Health Network. “A lot of things we can only associate and can’t really prove as being causal.”
Whitley worries only a little bit about being more prone to illness during the pollen season.
“The swelling of the tissue makes it a lot easier for outside pathogens to kind of get ahold. I don’t think it’s made a whole lot of difference for me yet.”
Still, he wears a mask to filter out viruses, and now, pollen.