Allergy experts across the country talk pollen counts, the impact of climate change, and what to do if you’re suffering now Sneezing, sniffling, coughing, snorting… ahh, the sounds of spring.
This time of year, millions of children and adults across the U.S. are starting to feel theirseasonal allergy symptoms kick up. In recent years, many may even have been noticing that the congestion and discomfort lasts longer, which some allergy experts chalk up to climate change.
“In the Baltimore area here, the normal high temperature for this time of year is 59 degrees Fahrenheit, and it’s looking like we’re going to exceed that. It’s supposed to go up to 74 degrees this week. If it’s warmer than normal, it can mean more pollen,” Lin said.
Dr. Sunil Perera, an allergist and immunologist practicing in the Sacramento, California, area said pollen conditions there are the worst they’ve been in four years.
“Tree pollen counts are three times higher than they were this time last year. We had a four-year drought and pollen counts were low, but this year, with early rain and persistent rain, all the trees got ground saturation water, particularly the mulberry. Mulberry usually pollinate in April, but they started in March this year,” Perera said.
Heavy rains have also encouraged the growth of mold spores, so people who have allergies to both are feeling a lot of symptoms now, he said.
Denver allergy expert Dr. Richard Weber, professor of medicine at National Jewish Health and the University of Colorado, his city has seen tree pollens continue to climb in recent years.
“We’ve noticed here in Denver that the tree pollens — for at least the last four to five years — it’s been very obvious the tree pollen counts are going up. Higher counts, higher peaks, lasting longer and possibly starting earlier.”
Certain trees, such as ash, traditionally started flowering in the area in April, but that’s shifted noticeably.
“We’ve now seen ash pollen all March, and cottonwoods, cedars, juniper trees — all of which normally come out in April, we’ve now seen for the last month, in March. We’re seeing things starting earlier and stretching out a little longer,” said Weber.
To quell symptoms such as watery eyes, a scratchy throat, stuffy nose, even an irritated roof of the mouth, Lin said people can first try over-the-counter medicines such as “second generation antihistamines” (Allegra and Claritin, for example); steroid nasal sprays (Flonase, Nasacort, Rhinocort); and eye drops specifically made to treat allergy symptoms. Unlike older over-the-counter medicines, the new drugs don’t make you sleepy and you don’t need to dose up as often. Use them consistently, though, Lin said.
“Nasal steroid sprays work better if you use them regularly. My patients find nasal rinses really helpful, too,” Lin said. The saline rinses are available over-the-counter and can be used a couple of times a day, and do not contain medications.
Avoidance measures help, too. Stay inside during high pollen count days, advised Lin. If you do go out, rainy days may be better because they tamp down the pollen for the short term.
It’s hard to resist getting outdoors on a beautiful, breezy spring day —the worst kind of day for seasonal allergy sufferers because the wind carries pollens on the air and people breathe them in and get them in the eyes, too. Lin advises showering after being outdoors and wash clothes you’ve worn outside. Pets can bring allergens into the house on their fur, so try not to sleep with pets that spend a lot of time romping in the yard or woods, Lin said.
There are some who don’t want drug treatments, said Perera. He has patients who’ve tried home remedies like eating local honey regularly, or bee pollen.
“I see people who take bee pollen. As long as it helps, fine. But patients who are allergic to ragweed may get a cross reaction to chrysthemum pollen,” he warned, noting that there isn’t a body of scientific research backing up these methods.