April 3, 2012— -- While most people enjoyed the unseasonably warm March temperatures, the early-bird spring may contribute to a host of health problems, experts said.
Ad allergy sufferers may be hit the hardest this season.
More than 7,500 daily record-high temperatures were set last month, and that included more than 540 places that set all-time highs, according to Chris Dolce, a meteorologist at Weather.com.
"We had a lot of precipitation during the winter and now we have these unseasonably warm temperatures," said Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of NY. "That really primes the pump for what we're seeing now."
Bassett said the phone has been "ringing off the hook" with patients suffering from allergies due to the unseasonably warm temperatures. He said allergy season started about 14 days early because of the weather and will likely run about a month longer than usual this year. Trees pollinate earlier after mild winters, and if spring fluctuates between warm and cold spells, there will be intense periods of pollen release during the warm times, and overall plants will grow and release more pollen than usual.
The worst allergy seasons are often preceded by rainy springs, which promote rapid plant and tree growth, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, or ACAAI. But once allergy season has hit, heavy rainfall can actually be helpful by clearing the air of pollen, offering sufferers some temporary relief.
And of course, with the warmer weather, people open their windows and spend time outside, which will only wreak more havoc on patients who suffer from pollen and ragweed allergies.
"The best advice is to take precautions to avoid exposure to allergens, such as pollen, that can trigger allergy symptoms," said Dr. Stanley Fineman, president of the ACAAI. "Staying indoors, keeping windows closed, washing hair before bed and removing shoes indoors can all help to reduce the transfer of outdoor allergens to indoors."
For those who live in bed bug-happy areas like New York, experts warned that the invasive critters may be in full effect a lot earlier this year.
Timothy Wong, technical director of M & M Pest Control in New York City, said business gets "out of control" in the summer because eggs hatch quicker in warmer weather. In colder temperatures, eggs take between seven and 14 days to hatch, but in the warmth, they hatch in six to 10 days, Wong said.
Once the temperature hits 65 degrees outdoors, everything changes, Wong said.
"Everyone starts opening up more and traveling more," he said. "Winter is easier to control. During the warm months, we easily see 400 to 500 cases each month.
"March has been insane," he said. "The number of cases for us are up 18 percent from last March."
While Wong said many people assume that traveling or being in a movie theater are the riskiest ways to get bed bugs, it is in fact the neighbors that put a person at higher risk.
"We'll see four or five cases of bed bugs in one building," Wong said. "They didn't all go see the same movie. The bugs travel through the outlet and radiator lines, so if you hear someone has them in your building, the apartment and the one adjacent to you should get inspected right away."
Ticks and Lyme Disease
Bed bugs might not be the only insect terror to hit an early upswing. Experts say there may be an early surge of ticks, and in turn, Lyme disease, because of the warm weather.
"Ticks ... are fussy, and high heat, high humidity or cold can dampen, but they are very local in that density of ticks can vary merely hundred yards apart in a given region," Dr. Paul Auwaerter, clinical director of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins Medical Institute, wrote in an email.
As the weather continues to warm, Auwaerter suggested that people who spend time outdoors should be "on the watch for ticks at this time and do careful inspection, use DEET if in the bushes/woods, wear long pants/shirts."
"Warmer weather certainly means an earlier start to the tick season, and I have had patients bringing in ticks as early as the last week of February this year," Auwaerter said. "Whether this translates into more cases of tick-borne infections is unclear."