Allergies in spring? Snow mold may be to blame


Sniffles, sneezes and a runny nose. Are you still excited for spring?

Hay fever symptoms such as cough, nasal congestion, and burning eyes could be a sign that you are allergic to snow mold or other fungi present in the spring.

Mold allergies and allergic rhinitis, often referred to as hay fever, affect about 10 to 20 percent of the population, said Dr. Paul Keith, allergist and associate professor at McMaster University, in an interview.

As exposure peaks during the summer months, allergy sufferers may begin to notice their symptoms on damp spring days due to an increase in mold, including snow mold, Keith said.

“Snow mold makes it look like snow actually produces mold, which it doesn’t,” said Lilly Byrtus, regional coordinator for the Edmonton-based Allergy / Asthma Information Association.

Snow mold – a fungus that grows under snow, on grass, or on dead organic matter – occurs when there is a thick layer of snow on the ground that is not completely frozen over for an extended period of time. . The fungus develops when the ground surface temperature approaches 0 C and the snow begins to melt.

“As the snow melts you get a lot of moisture in the environment and that can increase mold growth,” Keith said.

Snow mold can look like cobwebs covering the ground and can lead to circular patches of dead grass varying in color from bronze-pink to fuzzy white, said Dr. Tom Hsiang, professor of science in science. environment at the University of Guelph, in an email interview.

Snow mold occurs at different times each year, depending on the weather. The start time also varies from province to province.

“As with us in Edmonton this year,” said Byrtus, “it’s mid-March and a lot of the snow has already melted, so snow mold has already become quite prevalent in this part of the country.

“And I know Eastern Canada is struggling with a lot of blizzards… so it’s clear that there is no snow mold going on right now.”

Even after the snow has melted, a sensitive person can have repeated flare-ups if there is another snowfall.

Snow mold can be persistent

Depending on the weather, the fungus can last from a week to over a month. Windy and rainy days kill mold; the wind dries it up, and the rain carries it away. But snow mold can linger until warm weather arrives. According to Hsiang, it usually does not grow when the temperature is above 20 C.

“Generally, the grass has to be dry and clean and turn green before there is sure to be mold on it,” Byrtus said.

But the absence of mold doesn’t necessarily mean that allergy sufferers can expect relief. The inflammation can be self-sustaining and symptoms can persist even after no exposure, Keith said.

However, Hsiang disagreed that the two main types of snow mold, gray and pink, have a big impact on people with allergies. He said gray snow mold very rarely produces spores (reproductive cells) and pink snow mold spores are much less likely to spread through the air and cause allergic reactions through inhalation.

“There are other fungi… which produce abundant spores after snowmelt on dead, wet plant tissue, and these are more likely to cause allergies in susceptible people,” he said.

Tips for preventing symptoms

Keith recommends that people with allergies install an air filter on their bedroom window or just keep their window closed. If a mold-sensitive person needs to do some gardening work in the spring, an allergen mask should be used to avoid inhaling mold particles. But ideally, an allergic person should take preventative measures such as raking leaves in the fall rather than spring and cutting down snow banks to reduce the moisture that mold needs to survive.

“Helping the snow melt faster will certainly speed up the process of removing mold that has built up in that pile of snow,” Byrtus said.

She also said that if people with mold sensitivity are careful about when their allergies usually start each year, they can start taking medication earlier to minimize their symptoms.

“If possible, start taking allergy meds before the season starts, but definitely early on when you start having mild symptoms. Don’t wait until they get really strong,” Byrtus said.

Keith said if antihistamines don’t work, a person with pain should see a doctor, who can recommend other treatments such as prescription nose drugs.

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