Are you afraid to go outside? Are you sneezing so much you feel faint? Do you wish you had bought stock in Kleenex? If you are suffering like this reporter is, you don’t need to be told that we are currently experiencing a severe allergy season in Berkeley — maybe one of the worst ever.

Gwynne Searls, a general medicine PA at the John Muir Medical Group, said their Orinda office had been overwhelmed with patients coming in with allergies over the past few weeks. “It’s astonishing,” she said. “We’ve seen many more patients than usual.” Searls said doctors were seeing patients who had never suffered from allergies before, as well as many who were suffering so badly they were feeling sick and having to take time off work.

As for the cause, Searls is uncertain. “There are so many patients, the conspiracy theorist in me began to wonder what exactly was going on,” she said. A more realistic reason, she said, was the unusual weather we have been having — with bursts of late-season rain causing pollen-rich plants to bloom in quantity.

It’s not restricted to Berkeley, of course. The Wall Street Journal reported that allergists in New York were reporting seeing a doubling and tripling of patients, exceeding previous records.

Here on the west coast, the pollen counts are showing decidedly unconvincing “Moderate” levels (see graph below, sourced on a particularly “sneezy” day last week from The charts do not tally with the evidence to the contrary all around us: streaming noses, congestion and sneezing fits of the sort that are liable to drain every ounce of energy from you and send you to the nearest couch.

As for treatment, the usual antihistamines might help — be they in pill, nasal spray, or liquid form. Doctors can prescribe stronger doses than the over-the-counter variety, and generic brands come in cheaper if you are buying at a pharmacy or drugstore.

If you’ve heard preventative shots are the most effective way to go, the bad news is you’ve left it too late for this season. As the receptionist at the office of Berkeley allergist Dr Nataliya Kushnir put it: “You need to build up the immunity, so shots now won’t help much, but make sure you’re prepared for next year.”

Meantime, atishoo, atishoo to you too.

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

Join the Conversation


  1. Why to suffer? We have been treating Berkeley for many years – there are many ways! Check it yourself if the over-the-counter meds do not work. We use combination approach – best of the Eastern and Western medicine. The most important – we treat the cause so symptoms go away for years. Check out

  2. Thanks Kirsten, I was hoping some other practitioners would chime in!  And thanks for the link. 

  3. Thank you! Exactly what I was going to say. This is California! There’s no excuse not to use alternative medicine to treat your allergy misery. are some articles I wrote about TCM and allergies.

  4.  This season is worst so far of my limited time in Berkeley. Still, it’s so much better than when I lived in Eugene, where one of the primary agricultural products is grass seed (and grass pollen!) and the geography doesn’t give the wind much of an outlet. For a couple years there I was taking 12 Benadryl per day during the peak season.

    This year what I’ve been doing is taking cetirizine before going to bed to give me an antihistamine baseline and carrying around Benadryl and caffeine pills in case I wander into a bad spot or the wind picks up.

  5. Acupuncture and herbal medicine can provide relief without the side effects of antihistamines.  Berkeley is blessed with an abundance of acupuncturists and licensed clinical herbalists, including several
    sliding-scale community acupuncture clinics.  These are owned and operated by residents, unlike many drugstores and pharmacies.  We can support our health and our local economy at the same time!

  6. “as well as many who were suffering so badly they were feeling sick and having to take time off work.” That’s been me. I’ve lived in Berkeley for over 20 years of my life, and this is by far the worst allergy season I’ve ever had. It’s weird; I’ll be relatively fine in that department for quite a few days in a row, and then I’ll have a day of allergies that feels worse than the worst cold/cough I’ve ever had.