Chinese Elm tree may be complicating Georgia's fall allergy season

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Randi Isaacs usually spends fall outside, not here in her allergist's office.

"Because usually October, it's not only great weather, but you don't need the medication that much,” she says.  “It's usually an easy month for allergies."

Isaacs suffers from spring allergies, which are usually triggered by tree pollens.

The fall allergy season is typically ragweed season, triggered by a weed, not a tree.

"But this year it feels like spring again,” says Isaacs.  “I have, like, itchy eyes, and a runny nose."

A new study reveals the Chinese Elm may be changing Georgia’s fall allergy season.

"But this tree is not native to Georgia, it's actually native to China,” says Dr. Marissa Shams, an Emory Healthcare allergist who was part of the research team.

The researchers looked at the pollen count data from 2009 to 2015 and found increasingly high levels of Chinese Elm pollen during August and September.

"It was definitely surprising, because we just haven't noticed this trend before,” says Dr. Shams. “And, I think this is one of the first studies to have ever reported that non-native plants are having an impact on our pollen season."

So, why the Chinese Elm?

The researchers called several metro-Atlanta nurseries, who told them the tree is a favorite with landscapers.

"Because it is such a nice hardy tree, it's beautiful in appearance," says Dr. Shams.

And the Chinese Elm is also drought-resistant, and heartier than some other types of elm trees.

So, if you're like Randi Isaacs, and sniffing and sneezing this fall, you might have a new trigger to watch out for.

"Unfortunately, at this time, we don't have a Chinese Elm extract to test patients for,” says Dr. Shams.

Isaacs hasn’t decided whether to start using her allergy medication to try to deal with the changing pollen count.

"It kinds of makes sense,” she says.  “And I've been outside a little bit more.  I recently got a dog, so I've been outside with him."