Have you noticed that you’ve been getting your allergies a little sooner each year? And have you noticed that some of your symptoms feel way stronger the last few years?
If the answer is yes on both fronts, you certainly aren’t alone, because according to researchers at National Jewish Health Hospital (NJH) in Denver, global warming is making allergy season worse and the bad news is, things won’t be reversing themselves anytime soon.
“With the combination of increased temperature and carbon dioxide, we are seeing a dramatic change, and allergy sufferers can probably feel that change,” explained Richard Weber, M.D., president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, and an allergist at National Jewish Health.
“We are experiencing longer allergy seasons, earlier onset and there is just more pollen in the air," he says.
National Jewish Health allergy experts recently examined Janet Clement, a local patient who typically gets her allergy symptoms each April, but this year, the symptoms started to present themselves in the dead of winter, and they came with much more of a wallop compared to last year, she said.
“You don’t typically have allergies in the winter,” she said in an interview with National Jewish Health.
“But this year they got really bad and I was trying to figure out what was going on. In the past I’ve taken over-the-counter things to try to help, but I think, really, this year I need something more.”
Pollen counts up worldwide
In his own research, Weber referenced three other studies that showed pollen counts are going up all over the world due to global warming, as British researchers found a total of 385 plant species that were budding much earlier than they used to, which is obviously triggering allergy symptoms for some people much sooner in the year.
In the past, ragweed pollen season used to be for 13 days, Weber explained, but now it’s been extended to 27 days in the United States and in Canada, which has certainly caused more people to suffer stronger symptoms, for a much longer period of time.
“With the increased temperature, many plants tend to pollinate earlier in the season,” said Weber. “Not only that, but they're producing more pollen, so pollen counts are going up, and in some cases, dramatically so.
“A year ago, we saw pollen counts of certain trees that were about three times higher than what we normally would see in years past. It was awful. Plants that ordinarily were pollinating in April, by the beginning of March, they were going gangbusters,” he said.
In addition, Weber says depending on where you live in the U.S., but particularly in the northern states, there's not as much frost or cold temperatures as early as before. That's bad because it takes a “killing freeze” to keep ragweed pollen from persevering through the winter months.
“The season has broadened out so we're dealing with a much longer exposure,” says Weber.
“There’s going to be increased dampness and the like, especially in the coastal areas and that’s going to have an impact on molds like alternaria and cladosporium [which] will increase with increased temperature and increased CO2, so it is more dramatic -- longer season, earlier onset and more pollen in the air,” warns Weber.
Moreover, he says if people haven’t felt the difference in severity in their allergy symptoms yet, they probably soon will.
“The overall exposure of people that have allergies to these particular pollens is that they’re getting a bigger snoot full of allergenic protein over a longer period of time," says Weber.
What to do
In order to combat some of these allergy symptoms, Weber says it’s all about planning and trying to do things a little bit differently than you normally would.
First, begin taking your allergy meds earlier -- before your immune system is working at full capacity, which can cause your medication to be less helpful and cause it kick-in at a much slower pace.
Additionally, if you have to get outside during the day, do it earlier rather than later, as experts say weed pollens peak at midday, and at night. Also, close your windows, because those same pollens will still be in the air once twilight hits, so you want to be sure to close all windows once you’re inside.
And if you’re allergic to ragweed, you should stay away from these specific fruits, NJH says: Melons, bananas, honeydew melons and watermelons, since these fruits can cause people to have the same allergy symptoms that ragweed produces.