Willamette Valley shatters grass pollen record, relief in sight
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Willamette Valley shatters grass pollen record, relief in sight

Apr 14, 2023

The Willamette Valley allergy season reached historic levels of misery Tuesday morning as grass pollen levels shattered previous records, according to Eugene's Oregon Allergy Associates counting station.

Tuesday's grass pollen counts hit 1,301 particles per cubic meter of air, the highest ever recorded in 25 years of counting, confirmed Oregon Allergy Associates director Kraig Jacobson.

"We've had instances where we got close to 1,200, but we've never really come close to 1,300," he said. "And nowhere else in the country comes close, either."

For reference, 200 is considered "very high" nationwide.

The levels are so high that even people with no grass pollen allergy are effected by clogged noses, burning eyes and other allergy symptoms.

Grass pollen counts are highest in Eugene, at the south end of the Willamette Valley and subside the farther north you go. But at these levels, "we're exceeding the threshold for a very large number of people," Jacobson said.

He said the combination of a very wet early spring, which led to massive growth of grasses, followed by nearly a month without rain to clear the air created a combination of pollen between native and commercial grasses being blown around on high winds.

"Normally, the native Timothy grass has one peak,' Jacobson said. "It usually rains or something clears the air, and then we have a second peak from the cultivated grasses," he said. "But with no rain to clear the air, it's basically two peaks happening at once."

Thousands of acres of commercial grass are grown in the Willamette Valley for seed. Oregon supplies about 75% of all of the grass seed produced in the world.

There is both good and bad news when it comes to grass pollen counts until its typical conclusion around July 4.

The good news is that incoming cooler and cloudy weather should tamp down the extremely high counts somewhat. However, numbers are likely to stay high for at least another few weeks — well north of 200 — especially without rain.

Toward the later stages of June, the pollen also becomes less potent, Jacobson said.

In other words, if you can travel to the Coast or eastern Oregon, now is a pretty good time to do it.

As far as prevention goes, Jacobson suggested over-the-counter allergy pills, nasal sprays and eye drops, along with stronger medicine for those impacted.

Keeping windows and doors closed and using air conditioning helps significantly, he said. He also suggested showering more often, particularly at night. A surgical face mask — an N-95 mask — can also reduce symptoms associated with grass pollen.

Zach Urness has been an outdoors reporter in Oregon for 15 years and is host of the Explore Oregon Podcast. To support his work, subscribe to the Statesman Journal. Urness is the author of "Best Hikes with Kids: Oregon" and "Hiking Southern Oregon." He can be reached at [email protected] or (503) 399-6801. Find him on Twitter at @ZachsORoutdoors.