Melting snow reveals seasonal allergen

Ruth Griffiths

The snow mould season came early this year. On a lovely, sunny afternoon in early February I enjoyed a walk in the park. The birds were singing, the wind blew my hair and the sun warmed my face. The next day I felt terrible! My eyes were itchy, my nose ran constantly and I  felt tired despite a good night’s sleep. It was an allergic reaction to snow mould.

A University of Saskatchewan website says, “Snow mould is caused by several types of fungi that tolerate cold temperatures and like wet conditions. It appears in lawns after the snow has melted. It can vary from mild to severe depending on the year. It’s not toxic but is an allergen or irritant to people with breathing issues.”

Fuzzy, hairy looking threads called mycelium appear on the lawn where snow was piled up or compacted by footpaths. Snow mould will disappear on its own with warmer and dryer weather. Snow mould season will be over when the snow has all melted.

Snow mould can create bare spots in the lawn but they are easily mended with raking and light reseeding. The effect on humans, however, can be greater. My daughter has asthma, so the allergic reaction kept her coughing and sleepless for almost a week. Even though I was taking an antihistamine, the skin around my nose was rough and red from constant blowing. I was reluctant to go outdoors for fear of triggering the allergic reaction to the mould spores in the air.

I now live in a community of older adults. I was worried that I might have a cold that could spread to the people who sit across the dinner table. I researched the difference between a cold and seasonal allergies.

Allergies are our immune system’s vigorous response to an allergen such as dust mites or snow mould spores. Some common symptoms of an allergy are:

  • Itchy eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose

The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory system. Unlike allergies, which are caused by a reaction to allergens, colds are contagious and can spread from person to person. For example, if someone who has a cold sneezes near you, you can catch the virus and become infected.

Common cold symptoms are:

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Sneezing
  • Fatigue

You may also run a fever with a cold, which is something that you won’t have with allergies.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to hide indoors from the allergens for too long because the snowfall in early March cleared the air and covered the snow mould on the lawns.

My recent battle with allergies helped me to be more empathetic toward people who battle year-round with allergies to pollen, dust or pet dander.

And yes, increasingly severe allergic reactions seen be just another aggravation as we grow older.