In 2022, it was the perfect pollen-fuelled storm; a nationwide shortage of hay fever drugs as everyone faced days of high allergen levels. Mid-May marks the crossover point where the tree pollen season ends, and the fall of grass pollen begins, making it one of the worst times of year for sufferers.
And that year, stocks of chlorphenamine maleate (the active ingredient in over the counter remedies like Piriton) were running low with retailers warning that shelves could remain bare when the UK’s 16 million sufferers need help most.
Taking medication early on in the season is a crucial first step, according to the UK’s NHS, which recommends that antihistamines are taken as a matter of course, rather than on days where symptoms are particularly troublesome.
Beginning two weeks ahead of when you’d typically start noticing a runny nose or itchy eyes yields most success; once the body’s production of histamine, a chemical response to pollen, begins, it can be harder to stop it. If you can’t get hold of over the counter remedies, here are six methods to try:
How to treat hayfever
High doses of the pollen you’re allergic to, administered via injections, tablets and sprays, can help the worst-affected sufferers, according to Dr Adam Fox, a paediatric allergist at the Evelina London Children’s Hospital. These are designed to reduce inflammation, which in turn “retrains your immune system to be less responsive to pollen”.
He warns that “while it’s not a cure, it’s a very effective treatment” – one more commonly doled out across other European countries. In the UK, NHS access to such treatment can be limited, but Fox says paying for it privately costs around £80 per month.
2. Avoid outdoor mornings
Pollen counts are highest in the mornings and at dusk, rising with the warming air at the outset of the day, and again when it cools down. Going outside in the middle of the day instead is, in the UK, the way to avoid aggravating symptoms.
3. Wash your hair at night
While research is yet to confirm its efficacy, “experts believe hair washing at night helps hay fever,” Fox says. This is because the pollen trapped in hair over the course of a day will, if unwashed, transfer to your pillow, which means “you’ll then rub your face in it during the night”. He also suggests wearing wraparound sunglasses during the day to act as a barrier towards pollen on the move.
4. Be beside the sea
“The air is better ventilated” at the seaside, according to Fox. Distance from trees and grass, the main distributors of pollen, means beaches are likely to make life easier for hay fever sufferers. Rain can also be beneficial, as it washes pollen away.
During periods of stress, the body releases hormones and chemicals including histamine, which can provoke allergy symptoms. Becoming stressed by the onset of hay fever can also worsen its effects; relax by taking a (daytime) walk, or reading a book.
6. Mask up
Experts warn this may require trial and error, but face masks may help limit the amount of pollen able to latch on. Recent research from Israel found that almost 40 per cent of severe allergy sufferers experienced fewer symptoms, such as sneezing and a stuffy nose, after wearing surgical or N95 masks over a two-week period.
For those with moderate symptoms, 30 per cent saw improvements when wearing a surgical mask, compared with 40 per cent who wore an N95. Just over half of those with mild symptoms said theirs improved when wearing either mask.
“Masks should be worn by all pollen allergics when outside,” says Dr Glenis Scadding, a consultant allergist and respiratory specialist. As well as protecting the wearer from pollen and pollution, they also “protect society from Covid, since asymptomatic Covid may be present in people with allergic rhinitis who are prone to sneezing.”
A chill is in the air, and you all know what that means — it’s time for cold and flu season, when it seems everyone you know is suddenly sneezing, sniffling or worse. It’s almost as if those pesky cold and flu germs whirl in with the first blast of winter weather.
As respiratory viruses strain US health care systems, Biden administration tells states how it’s ready to help. Yet germs are present year-round — just think back to your last summer cold. So why do people get more colds, flu and now Covid-19 when it’s chilly outside?
In what researchers are calling a scientific breakthrough, scientists behind a new study may have found the biological reason we get more respiratory illnesses in winter. It turns out the cold air itself damages the immune response occurring in the nose.
“This is the first time that we have a biologic, molecular explanation regarding one factor of our innate immune response that appears to be limited by colder temperatures,” said rhinologist Dr. Zara Patel, a professor of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine in California. She was not involved in the new study.
In fact, reducing the temperature inside the nose by as little as 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) kills nearly 50% of the billions of virus and bacteria-fighting cells in the nostrils, according to the study published Tuesday in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
“Cold air is associated with increased viral infection because you’ve essentially lost half of your immunity just by that small drop in temperature,” said rhinologist Dr. Benjamin Bleier, director of otolaryngology translational research at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
“it’s important to remember that these are in vitro studies, meaning that although it is using human tissue in the lab to study this immune response, it is not a study being carried out inside someone’s actual nose,” Patel said in an email. “Often the findings of in vitro studies are confirmed in vivo, but not always.”
A hornet’s nest
To understand why this occurs, Bleier and his team and coauthor Mansoor Amiji, who chairs the department of pharmaceutical sciences at Northeastern University in Boston, went on a scientific detective hunt.
Here’s how to know when your child is too sick for school. A respiratory virus or bacteria invades the nose, the main point of entry into the body. Immediately, the front of the nose detects the germ, well before the back of the nose is aware of the intruder, the team discovered.
At that point, cells lining the nose immediately begin creating billions of simple copies of themselves called extracellular vesicles, or EV’s.“EV’s can’t divide like cells can, but they are like little mini versions of cells specifically designed to go and kill these viruses,” Bleier said. “EV’s act as decoys, so now when you inhale a virus, the virus sticks to these decoys instead of sticking to the cells.”
Those “Mini Me’s” are then expelled by the cells into nasal mucus (yes, snot), where they stop invading germs before they can get to their destinations and multiply. “This is one of, if not the only part of the immune system that leaves your body to go fight the bacteria and viruses before they actually get into your body,” Bleier said.
How to use food to boost your immune system
Once created and dispersed out into nasal secretions, the billions of EV’s then start to swarm the marauding germs, Bleier said.
“It’s like if you kick a hornet’s nest, what happens? You might see a few hornets flying around, but when you kick it, all of them all fly out of the nest to attack before that animal can get into the nest itself,” he said. “That’s the way the body mops up these inhaled viruses so they can never get into the cell in the first place.”
A big increase in immune power
When under attack, the nose increases production of extracellular vesicles by 160%, the study found. There were additional differences: EV’s had many more receptors on their surface than original cells, thus boosting the virus-stopping ability of the billions of extracellular vesicles in the nose.
Flu, RSV, Covid: 6 ways employers can deal with a potential wave of absences
“Just imagine receptors as little arms that are sticking out, trying to grab on to the viral particles as you breathe them in,” Bleier said. “And we found each vesicle has up to 20 times more receptors on the surface, making them super sticky.”
Cells in the body also contain a viral killer called micro RNA, which attack invading germs. Yet EVs in the nose contained 13 times micro RNA sequences than normal cells, the study found. So the nose comes to battle armed with some extra superpowers. But what happens to those advantages when cold weather hits?
To find out, Bleier and his team exposed four study participants to 15 minutes of 40-degree-Fahrenheit (4.4-degree-Celsius) temperatures, and then measured conditions inside their nasal cavities.
“What we found is that when you’re exposed to cold air, the temperature in your nose can drop by as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit. And that’s enough to essentially knock out all three of those immune advantages that the nose has,” Bleier said.
It seems like everyone’s getting sick this winter. Parents and health care workers, how are you coping? In fact, that little bit of coldness in the tip of the nose was enough to take nearly 42% of the extracellular vesicles out of the fight, Bleier said.
“Similarly, you have almost half the amount of those killer micro RNA’s inside each vesicle, and you can have up to a 70% drop in the number of receptors on each vesicle, making them much less sticky,” he said.
What does that do to your ability to fight off colds, flu and Covid-19? It cuts your immune system’s ability to fight off respiratory infections by half, Bleier said.
You don’t have to wear a nose sock
As it turns out, the pandemic gave us exactly what we need to help fight off chilly air and keep our immunity high, Bleier said. Wearing a mask can protect you from cold air that can reduce your immunity, an expert says.
“Not only do masks prrhinologist Dr. Benjamin Bleierotect you from the direct inhalation of viruses, but it’s also like wearing a sweater on your nose,” he said. Patel agreed: “The warmer you can keep the intranasal environment, the better this innate immune defense mechanism will be able to work. Maybe yet another reason to wear masks!”
In the future, Bleier expects to see the development of topical nasal medications that build upon this scientific revelation. These new pharmaceuticals will “essentially fool the nose into thinking it has just seen a virus,” he said. “By having that exposure, you’ll have all these extra hornets flying around in your mucous protecting you,” he added.
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.
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.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is facing a storm of new conservative-led criticism that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — which he’s led for decades — funded everything from risky coronavirus research in China to unnecessary experiments on dogs; here, we break down the outrageous and not-so-outrageous new claims, and the evidence supporting them.
Claim: House Republicans claim a letter sent to them by the National Institutes of Health last week “confirmed” a 2018-2019 study in the Chinese city of Wuhan involved gain-of-function research, a contentious method of studying viruses by enhancing them — despite denialsfromFauci that the NIH funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan.
Claim: Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) told Fox News last week the NIH letter “proves all along that this virus was started in the Wuhan lab,” tying it to months of insinuations from Republicans that Covid-19 began after a virus leaked from a lab.
Context: These bat viruses “could not possibly have caused the COVID-19 pandemic” because they’re too genetically distinct, the NIH says, an argument seconded by many scientists and the EcoHealth Alliance, the nonprofit recipient of the Wuhan NIH grant.
Claim: Separately, in recent weeks, lawmakers like Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) have chastised NIAID for funding “barbaric and gruesome” experiments on dogs, including studies allegedly exposing dogs to insects, cutting their vocal cords or euthanizing them.
Context: NIAID defended its dog experiments in a statement: It said researchers need to follow federal guidelines on humane treatment of animals, and dogs are sometimes given vocal cordectomies “humanely under anesthesia” to cut down on hazardous noise.
Claim: Newsoutletsandadvocates have spread photos of beagles from Tunisia whose heads were put in mesh cages filled with flies, part of a parasitic disease study that initially cited NIH funding when it was published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Context: NIAID told Forbes it actually “did not support this specific research,” and PLOS spokesperson David Knutson says the journal is issuing a correction to clarify the study’s funding was “erroneously attributed to the US National Institutes of Health.”
Fauci has served as the director of NIAID — part of the NIH — since 1984, but he earned mainstream fame after Covid-19 emerged, and his support for public health measures like mask-wearing and social distancing hasdrivencriticism from conservatives. In recent months, he’s also clashed with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) over the NIH’s ties to bat virus research in Wuhan. Most notably, during an explosive July hearing, Paul accused Fauci of lying about whether this work involved gain-of-function methods, and Fauci insisted the NIH hasn’t funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan.
Gain-of-function researchisill-defined, and opinions on the practice vary widely. Some scientists view it as a useful way of predicting viruses’ future trajectory, but critics warnmodifying viruses could pose a biosafety risk. The NIH paused gain-of-function studies for certain viruses in 2014, and three years later, it reopened this research but added extra scrutiny for any experiments that could enhance pathogens’ effectiveness against humans. However, the Wuhan research — which studiedvarious coronaviruses — wasn’t subject to these additional rules because the bat viruses under study weren’t known to infect people, the NIH claimed in last week’s letter to Republicans on the House Oversight Committee.
The NIH’s letter to Republicans also said EcoHealth Alliance was required to report any growth in disease for its experiment beyond a certain threshold, but it “failed to report this finding right away.” NIH’s leader Collins told the Washington Post the group “messed up here,” though its findings weren’t necessarily dire. But EcoHealth spokesperson Robert Kessler told Forbes it believes these claims were a “misconception about the grant’s reporting requirements,” saying the group reported the data in question to the NIH in 2018.
What We Don’t Know
Some of this acrimony is tied to uncertainty about the pandemic’s origin. Fauci and manyexperts think the virus most likely jumped from animals to humans naturally and argue there’s insufficient evidence to suggest the virus escaped from a laboratory, but other scientistssay an accidental leak from a lab is still a plausible theory, and Fauci and the Bidenadministration say they haven’t ruled out this possibility yet.
Still, even if the virus leaked from a lab, the NIH says the viruses studied in the Wuhan lab with EcoHealth Alliance’s participation were “very far distant from SARS-CoV-2,” the virus linked to Covid-19. Likewise, Kessler said none of those viruses “bear a close enough resemblance to the virus that causes COVID-19 to have played any role in its emergence.” And in his July exchange with Fauci, Paul said he isn’t necessarily alleging the NIH’s research specifically caused Covid-19.
Some conservativepundits tied their anger over NIH-funded dog research to broader complaints about Fauci, but dog experiments have been controversial for years. NIAID says its rules around animal testing aim to “ensure the smallest possible number of subjects and the greatest commitment to their welfare,” and argues this research is useful. One study blasted by activists used dogs as an “appropriate model” to test a vaccine for a brutal mosquito-borne parasite, NIAID told Forbes, and another study in Tunisia — which it said is separate from the experiment that placed dogs’ heads in cages — investigated a vaccine for a common parasite by letting dogs roam in an “enclosed open space” during sandfly season.
However, advocates castthisresearch as cruel and unnecessary. Justin Goodman from the White Coat Waste Project, an anti-animal experimentation group often critical of Fauci, told Forbes in a statement the group’s concerns are “not about photos in Tunisia — or any one beagle lab. It’s about Dr. Fauci’s widespread and long pattern of wasteful and punishing puppy abuse.”
I am a breaking news reporter at Forbes. I previously covered local news for the Boston Guardian, and I graduated from Tufts University in 2019. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @joewalshiv
The COVID-19 pandemic saw huge increases in searches for immunity boosters, including for things like supplements claiming to improve immune function. But even before COVID-19 scared people into their nearest supermarket aisle, “wellness” through supplements was a multi-billion dollar industry.
Celebrities and influencers across social media platforms regularly advertise and promote a myriad of supplements to improve health and the immune system. However, there are some major problems with these claims — namely, vitamin companies are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as drugs, and many supplements don’t work as claimed.
Unlike pharmaceuticals, which must undergo clinical trials that are reviewed by the FDA for the product’s safety and efficacy, dietary supplements have a less stringent path to market shelves. Even though they are most often found in or next to the store pharmacy, dietary supplements are regulated as food, not as drugs. This means that they have not been evaluated or proven effective.
Furthermore, while the manufacturer must prove the ingredients are “reasonably safe”, none of these products are formally “approved” by the FDA. But these supplements are not always inherently harmless options for people trying to live a healthy lifestyle. A 2015 study concluded adverse effects from dietary supplements caused an “estimated 23,000 emergency department visits in the United States every year.”misperception
Despite these risks, there has been an unfortunate absence of expert voices contesting supplement company claims with real data. “There needs to be a more robust response from the science community in the face of pseudoscience and misinformation,” says Tim Caulfield, a professor of health law at the University of Alberta, who has worked on studies and books examining ads and posts claiming to support the immune system on social media.
He explains that supplement marketing often builds on the common misperception that if the right amount of a vitamin is good for you, more is better. “That’s not the case at all,” he says. On the topic of supplement misinformation, Pieter Cohen, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a general internist at Cambridge Health Alliance, says, “The main problem is that the law permits companies to promote supplements as if they have important benefits for health even if there has never been a single study in humans to study the product’s efficacy or safety.”
Indeed, dietary supplements are not required to be reviewed by the FDA before they are distributed because they are not considered medications. Vitamins say right on the bottle that their claims “have not been reviewed by the FDA.” Instead, they are predominantly regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, which monitors the claims the labels make; however, this is limited to ensuring that the supplement makers are not explicitly claiming the product can be used as a treatment.
The FTC does allow companies to suggest a range of benefits their products provide, which may be why up to 70 percent of adults in the United States take at least one dietary supplement daily, with the most common reason being to try to maintain or improve their health. While some individuals with specific vitamin deficiencies may benefit from these products (under a doctor’s supervision), most of us do not. However, those marketed as “immune boosters” or “immune boosting” are more problematic.
Despite suggestive labels, there is no way to “boost” the immune system. The immune system is a complicated and dynamic network of cells, proteins, hormones, and other biological components. Even if it were possible to ratchet up such a complex system, you wouldn’t necessarily want to, because the immune system operates primarily by inducing inflammation. This alerts various immune cells to mobilize and fend off danger.
In moderation, this is perfectly healthy, and the system has a braking mechanism all its own. But if a product were to truly “boost” the immune system, this mechanism would be amplified. We know what too much inflammation looks like: autoimmune disorders, inflammatory disease, and allergies.
Ironically, in some cases, products heralded to improve immune function can actually suppress it. Take vitamin D, touted for its ability to enhance “immunity.” While it may increase the inflammatory response, it has been shown to actually reduce the activity of other cell types—namely T cells, which are critical in forming long-term memory. The same is true of many other popular supplements, such as zinc, when a person takes substantially more than the recommended daily amount.
Supplements can be actively harmful in other ways too. Since supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, they aren’t evaluated for safety in the same way as pharmaceuticals. Of course, the manufacturers cannot knowingly use or include compounds that are known health hazards — legislation from 1994 dictates that ingredients used in supplement products must not have been shown to cause harm.
But that doesn’t mean these products aren’t without yet unrecognized risks. “I think one of the biggest things that gets overlooked is the potential for a drug-drug interaction,” says Dr. Kathryn Nelson, a medicinal chemist at University of Minnesota. Physicians need patients to disclose what supplements they are using, including multivitamins, because they might interact with prescribed medications.
From inactivating a pharmaceutical prescription, to dangerously exacerbating its effects, these products can have significant consequences. Yet many patients do not disclose or discuss their supplement use with their healthcare providers, due to their misguided perception that vitamins are safe or not worth mentioning.
Additionally, the active ingredient in vitamins must be either be purified from a natural source or synthesized in a lab, and both methods have the potential for carry-over from compounds used in these methods. Such contamination is called “residual complexity,” Nelson says.
This is particularly concerning when heavy metals are used and possibly present in the final product. In pharmaceutical drugs, these compounds would usually go to clinical trials, and any potential introductions of heavy metals removed in what’s called “process chemistry” to gain FDA approval. But the purification process of supplements are not reviewed by the FDA. This has opened the door for potential contaminants-heavy metals as well as other drugs and even pathogens-into these products.
Given all of this negative and even contradictory information about these products, why is the supplement market a multi-billion dollar industry? Much of the answer lies in its advertising. Companies often collaborate with social media influencers, who talk up how great the product is. And despite thousands of scientists across the country with expertise in nutrition and immunology, experts rarely publicly contradict these statements.
Science communication is an important part in the scientific process. However, more often than not, important conversations happen only with other scientists at scientific conferences, or in journals behind paywalls. As a result, the larger non-expert community is left in the dark. Daniel Pham, the associate director of the Milken Institute’s Center for Strategic Philanthropy, wrote an essay in 2016 which detailed the lack of support for science outreach by scientists, and an absence of communication training.
Almost five years later, he says, “The same issues have resonated with me even more in the times of COVID. I feel like there’s a bigger sense of the need for improved communication of science to the public. But the tools we’re using are just woefully inadequate.” The evidence of his statement can be seen in a recent study by Arizona State University, which showed the majority of scientists believe that it is important to inform and engage the general public about science topics.
However, when asked about their personal interest or intentions of doing this, the answers are less enthusiastic. Often scientists are not encouraged or even rewarded for public outreach, which doesn’t aid securing funding, publishing, or gaining tenure. One possible solution might be to reform the funding and promotion institutions so they reward researchers for this kind of public service.
However, scientists should also not anticipate their feedback will be immediately accepted based on their resumes. As Nelson points out, the first step in improving the public’s access to verified information is building trust with experts. That includes breaking down the stigmas surrounding what it means to be a scientist, and making expertise more accessible.
A recent example is the initiative Science on Tap, where a scientist describes their research in general terms to patrons at a local bar or venue. Pham has also started a similar effort at Johns Hopkins University, called Project Bridge, bringing small, introductory science demonstrations to public spaces such as farmer’s markets. Specific tactics to counter supplement marketers could also include partnering with influencers who are willing to share verified research, as well as lobbying for legislative reform.
The supplement industry is a prime example of the dangers of misinformation, which is damaging to both science and the public at large. Cohen notes that the next steps are to urge the FDA and FTC to enforce existing laws prohibiting the promotion of products with disease claims, in an attempt to get them off the shelves. In the long-term, he notes the existing law on these products needs to be reformed so that “all products [are] registered with the FDA.”
Scientists and researchers have the expertise to get information to the public and enact policy change. But it will require getting creative. “A lot of the misinformation really has become a social media story,” Tim Caulfield says, “so we need to go to where the misinformation resides.” Scientists, he adds, “need to find their own voice.