If your allergies feel worse than usual, it’s not your imagination. A cold January has triggered the highest tree pollen counts in the country, according to University of South Florida Health Professor, Dr. Richard Lockey.

  • Enough pollen in the air to affect even those who don't suffer allergy symptoms
  • Allergy symptoms can be treated with OTC medications
  • Official pollen season runs from December to May

“All the trees held off to pollinate until the weather got warm,” Dr. Lockey said. “Then suddenly they all pollinated at one time.”

The main culprit this time of year are the 11 different species of oak trees that cross-pollinate through the wind and lead to high counts, according to Lockey.

“Right now we have 3,600 pound particles per cubic meter in the air. That’s tremendous,” he said. “You only need 10 to get symptoms for people to have mild allergies.”

That’s enough pollen to cause people who normally don’t have allergies to feel symptoms.

“That stuff doesn’t usually bother me,” said Cathy Carey in St. Petersburg. “My eyes have been irritated, my nose is running a little bit.”

Lockey said allergy symptoms are similar to having a bad cold and can usually be treated with over the counter medications.

“If they don’t work, you may want to try inter-nasal steroids. They’re very safe,” he said. “But if that doesn’t work, then you have to see somebody like myself and be treated.”

The USF professor said you can also see a layer of pollen on cars.

“It’s yellow-green pollen, they’re the pollen particles. They’re about 20 microns across,” he said. “They’re about twice the size of a red blood cell and so you can see it with the naked eye when they’re on your car.”

The official pollen season for trees runs from December to May, but Lockey said the worst of it should be over by the end of the month.