- Experts say allergy seasons are getting stronger and longer.
- They say part of the reason is that climate change is putting more pollens into the air.
- They advise people with allergies to wear sunglasses when outside, shower after being outdoors, and keep windows closed when indoors.
Allergy season is getting longer and there’s more pollen in the air.
This is bad news for people who suffer from seasonal allergies, and the situation is unlikely to change before the world prevents warming, according to scientists.
A recent study found that pollen season increased by 20 days annually between 1990 and 2018, while pollen concentrations in North America increased 21 percent over the same time period.
According to the report, pollen in the air could be becoming more potent and hence more allergenic.
Climate change is the “dominant cause of changes in pollen season duration and a major contributor to rising pollen concentrations.” The writers of the study wrote. “Our findings suggest that human-caused climate change has already exacerbated North American pollen seasons.” Climate-driven pollen patterns are also expected to intensify respiratory health impacts in the coming decades.”
Dr. Stanley M. Fineman, an allergist, and immunologist at Atlanta Allergy & Asthma and former president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (ACAAI), told Healthline that the results represent his 40 years of experience monitoring pollen counts and treating patients in Georgia.
“This is obviously a more serious allergy season than we’ve seen in a long time,” Fineman said. “We are seeing a lot of people who are complaining about seeing more complications and not being able to treat them with the over-the-counter drugs that are available. This is due to it being colder earlier in the year and having a longer and more potent pollen season.”
Climate and COVID-19
Interestingly, Nowak-Wegrzyn stated that the COVID-19 pandemic could have reversed some of the rises in climate-driven changes to pollen season over the past year. As a result, people spent more time inside and wore masks indoors. And they can wash their hands more often, both of which will further reduce their exposure to allergens in the air.
“For allergens as well as pathogens, exposure is important,” Nowak-Wegrzyn told Healthline.
“There is variation — not all season is worse than the previous one,” she said. “However, we are seeing more patients with bad symptoms in general, especially in the pediatric population.”
The COVID-19 safeguards implemented in 2020 and 2021 may have provided a brief reprieve from the deteriorating allergy season. However, Nowak-Wegrzyn believes that the overall tendency is not promising.
“I’m worried about next year,” when lower COVID-19 cases may lead to less mask wearing and handwashing and more outdoor activity, she said.
What you can do
About what pollens you’re allergic to and testing daily pollen counts. Remain among the best first approaches to limiting susceptibility to seasonal allergens, according to the ACAAI.
Windy days with heavy pollen counts “are definitely not the best day to plan a walk or visit a park.” Nowak-Wegrzyn also stated that pollen counts are the highest in the morning.
Holding windows locked during pollen season, showering after being outside, and wearing sunscreen and a hat to keep pollen out of your hair and eyes are other protective measures suggested by the ACAAI.
Continuing to wear a mask outdoors during pollen season also can limit exposure, Fineman said.
“Some of my patients were wearing masks well before COVID,” he noted.
Getting a head start with your allergy medication also can help, said Dr. Luz S. Fonacier, current ACAAI president and an infectious disease allergy and immunologist specialist at NYU Langone Hospital — Long Island.
“If you know your allergy symptoms will appear early in the spring or fall season, start taking your prescriptions earlier,” she advised Healthline. “If you start your treatments 2 to 3 weeks before your symptoms start, your pain will be lessened.”
You can also talk with your doctor to see if allergy immunotherapy, such as allergy shots, is a good option for you.
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