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If you’ve ever visited or moved to Hawaii and experienced intense allergy symptoms, you’re not alone. Many visitors and new residents are caught off guard by severe sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, runny noses, and other uncomfortable allergy issues in what seems like an island paradise.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Hawaii’s year-round warm climate, abundance of foreign plants and trees, and volcanic soils create a perfect storm for heightened allergy problems for both locals and newcomers.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the science behind Hawaii’s intense allergens, identify the most troublesome allergy triggers, provide tips for managing symptoms, and give you a better idea of what to expect so your allergies don’t ruin your time in the Aloha State.

Hawaii’s Tropical Climate Promotes Year-Round Pollen Production

Warmth Allows Many Plants to Bloom Constantly

Hawaii’s warm tropical climate allows many types of trees, grasses, and flowering plants to bloom constantly throughout the year (Hawaii Department of Health). Unlike temperate climates that have four seasons, Hawaii’s average year-round temperatures typically range from 70°F at night to the mid 80s during the day.

These ideal growing conditions mean pollen production never takes a break.

With no frost or freezing weather to halt growth cycles, Hawaii sees extremely high pollen counts from endemic plants like mangoes, palms, and orchids, as well as imported species like banyan trees and pine, eucalyptus, and albizia trees. In fact, Hawaii has some of the highest pollen counts in the nation.

High Humidity Spreads Pollen Far and Wide

Hawaii is also one of the most humid states, with average relative humidity levels ranging from 63% on sunny days to 96% on rainy days (Current Results). This moisture in the air allows pollen grains to remain viable for longer periods.

Additionally, the islands’ persistent trade winds efficiently spread pollen across communities. Studies have detected extremely high concentrations of pollen more than a mile off shore. So even heading to the beach likely won’t provide allergy relief.

Lack of Freezing Weather Fails to Kill Pollen

Freezing temperatures in other parts of the country kill plants and pollen. But Hawaii’s average winter lows hover around 65°F. So vegetation continues churning out allergy-inducing pollen grains year-round without an off season.

Additionally, most areas don’t get cold enough to prompt plants like grasses to go dormant. So while a lawn in Wisconsin becomes less allergy-inducing in winter, Hawaii grass stays lush and green.

Hawaii Average Temps Wisconsin Average Temps
Winter Low: 65°F Winter Low: 18°F
Summer High: 85°F Summer High: 80°F

Influx of Foreign Plants Increases Allergen Exposure

Many Imported Ornamental Plants are High Pollen Producers

Hawaii’s tropical climate allows a wide variety of ornamental plants from around the world to thrive on the islands. Unfortunately, some of the most prolific pollen producers are popular choices for landscaping and gardening.

Plants like bougainvillea, jacaranda, monkeypod trees, and plumeria are heavy pollen emitters that can trigger allergies when the tiny particles are spread by wind and rain (American Lung Association, 2022).

Flowers and plants may seem harmless, but studies show up to 30% of people have allergic responses to pollen. As Hawaii continues to import exotic species, exposure to new allergens is introduced as well.

Common Mainland Trees Like Olive and Birch Exacerbate Issues

Mainland species like olive and birch trees also stir up issues for allergy sufferers in Hawaii. Though not native, several allergy-causing species have naturalized across the islands over time. Wind and rain efficiently transfer pollen between communities, increasing seasonal allergy symptoms.

Olive Trees in Hawaii Over 6 million
Birch Trees in Hawaii Over 3 million
With millions of allergen-producing trees scattered statewide, avoiding exposure can be difficult for residents and visitors alike (Hawaii Invasive Species Council, 2021). Vigilant containment efforts seek to prevent additional allergy-triggering plants from spreading.

Grasses and Weeds Spread Rapidly in the Tropics

In addition to imported ornamental and mainland species, simple grasses and weeds propagate easily across Hawaii, increasing seasonal allergies. Plants like ryegrass, ragweed, and pigweed release billions of pollen grains annually that can be inhaled deep into the lungs.

Weed abatement is critical in the fight against heightened allergy issues. Studies show ragweed spreads up to 8% farther south for every 2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2022).

Containing growth is important as climate change accelerates the spread of allergy-inducing species.

Volcanic Soils Boost Plant Growth and Allergen Levels

Naturally Occurring Minerals Act as Plant Fertilizers

The volcanic origin of Hawaii’s islands results in exceptionally fertile soil that drives vigorous plant growth. As lava flows into the ocean and cools over thousands of years, it produces a porous, mineral-rich medium ideal for agriculture.

Trace nutrients like iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium act as natural fertilizers that stimulate plant development.

In particular, Hawaii’s soils contain high levels of nutrients called macronutrients – nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus – that are essential for photosynthesis and plant growth. Studies have found macronutrient concentrations up to 10 times higher in volcanic soils compared to normal soils.

This fuels rapid growth for trees, grasses, and flowering plants.

Lava Rocks and Ash Trap Moisture for Lush Vegetation

In addition, the unique porous structure of volcanic rock allows Hawaii’s soil to retain water effectively through wet and dry cycles. For example, compressed layers of loess and volcanic ash act as natural reservoirs by soaking up rainfall.

Networks of underground lava tubes also store enormous quantities of fresh water. This irrigation phenomenon supports the lush green landscapes found on the islands.

With high nutrition and year-round moisture, Hawaii’s vegetation flourishes, from dense rainforests to the specialized ecosystems found on active volcanoes. Unfortunately, the high pollen counts released from all these plants spell disaster for allergy sufferers.

Frequent Eruptions Replace Nutrient-Depleted Soil

Volcanic eruptions have built up the Hawaiian Islands over hundreds of thousands of years. While destructive in the short term, over time lava flows replenish vital minerals and nutrients in the soil burned up by plant growth.

New igneous rock disgorged from Hawaii’s volcanoes during eruptions weathers into rich fertile medium again – renewing the cycle.

For example, in 2018 the vigorous eruption of Kīlauea volcano on Big Island released over half a cubic mile of lava and over 50,000 acres of new land surface. As this young volcanic landscape ages, it will support the islands’ characteristic lush vegetation and renowned agricultural yields for centuries.

Tips for Managing Allergies in Hawaii

Avoid Peak Pollen Times in the Early Morning

Pollen counts tend to be highest early in the morning, so try to avoid extended outdoor exposure between 5-10 AM if possible. Do outdoor activities like exercising or gardening later in the day when pollen counts start to fall.

You can check local pollen counts online or on weather reports to determine the best times to be outside.

Consider Allergy Medications and Air Purifiers

Allergy medications like antihistamines and nasal sprays can provide relief from allergy symptoms. Over-the-counter options like Zyrtec, Claritin, and Flonase are available. For more severe allergies, see an allergist about prescription medications or allergy shots.

Using an air purifier with a HEPA filter at home and keeping windows closed can also help reduce indoor allergens.

Watch the Weather and Pollen Counts Carefully

Pay attention to weather reports and sites like Pollen.com to see daily pollen counts. Levels tend to rise after rain storms or on hot, dry, windy days. On high pollen days, limit time outdoors as much as possible.

Also avoid activities like mowing lawns or raking leaves which kick up allergens. Wear a protective mask if you do need to garden or mow.

Conclusion

As you can see, Hawaii’s ideal tropical climate, abundance of foreign foliage, and nutrient-rich volcanic soil create a perfect gale storm for allergy suffering amongst visitors and residents alike. But with proper preparation, preventative measures, and treatment when necessary, your allergies don’t have to control your experience in this island paradise.

We hope this guide gave you a better understanding of Hawaii’s intense allergens so you can better enjoy your time in this breathtaking state. And remember, aloha means being in the present moment with compassion for all – including yourself and your allergy triggers!

Now that you understand the science behind Hawaii’s heavy allergen environment, you can take steps to prevent and treat symptoms as needed. We wish you safe travels and happy, healthy adventures discovering paradise in the Aloha State!

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