Climate change is prompting longer pollen seasons and higher pollen counts, which spells trouble for people with seasonal allergies, allergists warn.
“Allergy seasons have been changing in North America and across the globe, and we see greater changes the further you get from the equator,” explained Dr. Kara Wada, an allergist immunologist at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center. “In the U.S., the time between our thaw and our freeze is much longer, so plants have longer to reproduce and produce more pollen.”
Along with more severe and longer-lasting symptoms for allergy sufferers, longer pollen seasons have led to an increase in the number of people diagnosed with seasonal allergies for the first time.
There were 19.2 million American adults diagnosed with seasonal allergies in 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But seasonal allergies affect up to 60 million people in the United States and are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness.
Seasonal allergy sufferers first need to identify their allergens and then take steps to avoid them, Wada said.
- Monitor pollen levels and avoid spending time outdoors when pollen counts are high.
- Keep windows closed in the car and at home.
- Use high-efficiency filters in your heating and cooling system, and change them regularly.
- If you do go outside, change your clothes and bathe when you return home, to remove pollen from your skin and hair.
- If possible, begin taking antihistamines recommended by your doctor a few weeks before spring allergy season begins.
- Consider immunotherapy, which can desensitize the immune system to allergens. Once immunotherapy is complete, patients may need little to no allergy medication.
“There are incredibly helpful, really effective treatments and an allergist immunologist can help you figure out the perfect combination to help treat your symptoms and get you feeling better,” Wada said in a university news release.
“If allergies go untreated, not only are your symptoms going to worsen with stuffy nose, sneezing, but that also can sometimes progress into sinus infections, and recurrent sinus infections can sometimes require surgery,” Wada added.
By: Robert Preidt
Robert Preidt is an award-winning journalist and photographer who began his career 40 years ago. The first 15 years were spent as a newspaper reporter, followed by freelancing for various publications, including the Toronto Star, Family Practice and the Medical Post. He’s been writing for HealthDay since 1999.
Pollen season could start 10-40 days earlier and last 5-20 days longer, with pollen levels that could triple in some places if carbon emissions aren’t curbed, researchers found.
Warmer weather allows plants to start blooming earlier and continue to bloom later in the season, while carbon dioxide in the air from burning fuels such as coal, gasoline, and natural gas helps plants produce more pollen, Allison Steiner, PhD, one of the study co-authors and a climate scientist at the University of Michigan, told The Associated Press.
The research team looked at 15 plant pollens in the U.S. and historical pollen data collected from 100 sites across North America. They used computer simulations to calculate how long the allergy season will get and how pollen emissions will change as temperatures rise during the next 80 years.
They found that temperature and precipitation will affect daily pollen emissions based on the region and type of pollen. The annual total pollen emission could increase 15% to 40% due to seasonal change and temperature-driven pollen production. What’s more, rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could increase pollen production by 200% by 2100.
Allergy season has already grown worse in recent decades, the AP reported. Allergists say that pollen season in the U.S. used to start in mid-March around St. Patrick’s Day and now often starts in mid-February around Valentine’s Day.
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