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‘Allergies are killing me’: Why allergy conditions are worse than ever in the Bay Area

A man sneezes into a tissue, surrounded by floating red flowers and a vibrant city backdrop, in a colorful, stylized illustration.
AI illustration by Clark Miller for The Standard

Relentless sneezing. Nonstop watery eyes. Noses bloody from blowing them so much. If you’re suffering right now, know that you’re not alone.

Bay Area locals have been taking to social media to detail the misery of their allergy symptoms, with many claiming they’re the worst they’ve ever been. 

“Not dead but allergies are killing me,” wrote Redditor 1moreguyccl. 

“I should probably be dead,” added Rural_Bedbug. 

The season’s severity landed one Standard staffer in the emergency room, and your humble reporter is piecing together this dispatch from behind a mound of tissues and cough drop wrappers. We're part of an army of allergy sufferers.

“This year has been different. Face tingles, congestion, sneezing, coughing, runny nose, sore throat,” said Oakland resident Darren Hall. The Alabama native is used to seasonal allergies—growing up, he sometimes saw cars coated in pollen—yet he’s never experienced such debilitating symptoms as he has this season. The severity of his allergies has caused him to miss nearly a week of work. 

Alexander Savgira, who lives in San Jose, said he can usually control his seasonal sneezing and scratchy throat by taking nondrowsy antihistamine tablets. But this year, he’s had to use pills, spray, eye drops and Benadryl at night. And yet, he still wakes up coughing. (He suspects London plane trees, abundant in San Jose, are the culprit.) 

KRON4 meteorologist Dave Spahr said the cause of the out-of-the-park reactions is twofold. First is the recent weather: late-season rains followed by bright sun. “Everything is growing like crazy,” he said. 

Stow Lake's bridge over water
Flowers bloom by the Stow Lake Bridge in Golden Gate Park. | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard

The second piece is that the atmosphere is not flushing out the high pollen counts produced by the combination of heavy rain and shining sun. “We’ve had local winds but not synoptic ones,” he said, referring to regional winds that create more movement. Fog alone, Spahr explained, is not enough to sweep the environment free of allergens. 

Tree pollen has been consistently rising over the past week and reached the “extreme” level on Monday, according to AccuWeather’s allergen forecast. The massive pollen production has another culprit, one that underlies both factors Spahr outlined: climate change. The warming of the environment increases the duration and intensity of pollen season, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

So it’s not only the Bay Area that’s seeing an increase in allergy-related illnesses. According to a recent study, the spring season has shifted to start as much as 40 days earlier across the country, giving that much more time for pollen to be produced and allergies to inflame. Making matters even worse, the increasing presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ramps up the production of that fine yellowish powder that is the bane of so many antihistamine gorging people’s existence. 

It’s all leading to what The Atlantic has called an “Allergy Apocalypse,” in which Flonase-pumping, herbal tea-drinking and consistent tissue-yanking will become the norm—even for those who hadn’t suffered from seasonal allergies before. 

'You might get a little break in November'

Dr. June Zhang, an allergist with South Bay Allergy and Asthma Group, said she is seeing more patients than ever—and that the last two seasons have been the worst ever because of the increased rainfall. Seasonal allergies in the Bay Area have become a nearly year-round phenomenon, according to Zhang.  

“You might get a little break in November,” she said. 

Zhang advises using topical treatments first rather than tablets. “It’s best to go straight to where the problem is,” she said. When patients tell her Flonase is not working, she asks how often patients are spraying it. 

“Allergies are like an avalanche or a flood,” she said. “You need to be consistent about using it.” 

Zhang recommends at least one to two weeks of consistent Flonase use. It’s also important to administer it correctly. She advises patients to keep their heads down but the bottle straight—the tip only needs to be a few millimeters into a nostril—when placing the spray, because the sinuses are toward the back of the head. For those with itchy eyes, she recommends Pataday eye drops, which can be kept cold in the refrigerator for extra comfort. 

While most people associate sneezing and a runny nose with allergies, there are other symptoms that may not seem so typical: sore throat, sinus congestion, migraines and a feeling of itchiness in the throat, inner ear and roof of the mouth. So how is one to tell allergies from the many respiratory illnesses circling these days? 

If you have symptoms like a fever or body aches, it’s not allergies, Zhang said. But if you have a cough that doesn’t resolve on its own in seven to 10 days, it’s likely allergies. 

Zhang pointed to the importance of identifying allergies correctly and early on in children because they can lead kids to mouth-breathe, which can in turn change their bone and facial structures and result in invasive dental surgeries down the road in extreme cases. Zhang said she’s seen children land in the emergency room with puffy eyes that parents assume are caused by a peanut allergy and corneal damage from kids rubbing their eyes too much. 

While many San Franciscans are feeling the burn—and the itch—the weather gods may soon be on their way to help in the form of increased winds that will stir the atmosphere and sweep away allergens. 

“There should be minor relief this weekend,” KRON4 meteorologist Spahr said.

Julie Zigoris can be reached at jzigoris@sfstandard.com