Live in Willamette Valley and have allergy symptoms? It might be because pollen counts are sky high

By Rachael McDonald (KLCC)
June 7, 2023 1 p.m.

Dry, itchy eyes? Runny nose, sneezing? If you’re in the Willamette Valley and you’re experiencing any of those symptoms, it might be due to the extraordinarily high grass pollen counts in the valley.


“Our weather has a lot to do with pollen count,” said Dr. Kraig Jacobson, medical director at Oregon Allergy Associates in Eugene. “We had a very unique weather pattern this year, that had March and April very wet and cool. Then the weather dried up and warmed up and all the tree pollen came. And the grass plays catch-up and the pollen counts have just been progressively rising over time.”

Jacobson said tree pollen was high in the early spring. Now wild grasses and cultivated grasses are coming on with record amounts of pollen in the air.

“So, for those of you that have followed the pollen count, you’ve seen it’s gone from high to very high, and very high here is 190 pollens per cubic meter for grass,” he said. “And we’ve been above that for a couple weeks, and we’ve been heading up higher and higher.”

Oregon Allergy Associates lists daily pollen counts at their website. Jacobson said, in the last several days, the grass pollen count has been extremely high, record levels, above 950. He expects the numbers to continue to go up.

“I don’t think we’re at the peak yet. Although I could be wrong, but my gestalt from looking at what the weather’s going to be here in the next several days, it looks like we could break through above 1,000 which has happened in the past and we’ve been as high as 1,100 and in that range. But we have the possibility of topping that,” he said.

A grassy hillside in southeast Eugene, where the grass pollen is filling the air.

A grassy hillside in southeast Eugene, where the grass pollen is filling the air.

Anni Katz / KLCC

Jacobson said his office has seen a lot of people with allergies and asthma this year. He says reducing your exposure is the best way to alleviate symptoms. Some people head to the coast where pollen counts are much lower. He said being indoors in air-conditioning helps too.

“If they’ve been outside, wearing eye cover. When you come in, taking a shower, taking a shower before bed so you’re not bringing the pollen with you, because it’ll be in your hair and be in your clothing and all.”

He said a lot of medications are available over the counter, like antihistamines and eyedrops. There are also prescription medicines that can be helpful. Jacobson said people experiencing shortness of breath should see their health provider.

What about wearing a mask, like an N95?

“Yeah, the N95 is going to be much more effective,” said Jacobson. “It doesn’t give you a get out of jail free card. But it will help. Just be aware that, you can wear an eye cover too, your eyes are good at picking up the pollens. It’ll go down the nasal, lachrymal duct to the nose. So, you won’t be completely avoiding it. You certainly don’t want to be doing things like being in a convertible car, where it’s open, or with the windows down, or riding a bike or something like that when it’s really high if you’re allergic because you’re going to pick up a tremendous amount of pollen that way.”

Jacobson said a lot of pollen is released early in the morning, but Eugene is downwind of it. He said their air sampler shows hour by hour differences.

“So, when we’re having that real breezy, windy weather in the afternoon, and I’m the one reading the pollens, I will see those peaks in the afternoon when the wind is blowing. So, under our current weather conditions, we’re seeing peaks actually in the afternoon,” he said. “Now, if you’re located out in Linn County, north of Coburg, and you’re by a grass seed field, your peak is going to be earlier than that because it’s releasing early in the morning. So, it depends on where you are.”

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