Spring is in the air — and so are pollen and other tiny particles that can make your eyes itch and nose run.
“It is a bad time for allergies,” Kathleen Slonager, the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the nonprofit Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, said Wednesday. “But climate change is making it worse.”
Slonager, a nurse, added allergy seasons are in the spring and fall.
But now they are starting earlier, lasting longer and affecting more people.
“More people will begin to show allergy symptoms when they never had them in the past,” she said. “It’s the immune system, right? You can only take so much. Anecdotally, more people are talking about how their allergies are worse.”
And on top of that, with COVID-19 cases on the rise, it could be hard to tell without a test if your symptoms are a result of allergies, a cold, the flu or the coronavirus.
A key difference: Unlike COVID-19 or the flu, allergies symptoms do not usually include fevers, muscle aches, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting. And allergies are triggered by allergens such as pollen, grass or pet dander.
Effects of climate change
Earlier this year, climate scientists at the University of Michigan looked at 15 different plant pollens in the United States and used computer simulations to calculate how much worse allergy season will likely get by the year 2100.
So get this:
Last year, Dr. Kathleen Dass, an allergist, immunologist and medical director with the Michigan Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Center in Oak Park, said it was one of the worst allergy seasons she has ever seen.
And according to the research, each successive year could be that way.
More:Climate change to make pollen season nastier and start sooner
More:Hay fever setting in? Here are the 20 worst cities for people with seasonal allergies.
As the world warms, the scientists found, allergy season will start weeks earlier and end many days later — and it’ll be worse while it lasts, with pollen levels that could as much as triple in some places, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.
In addition, carbon dioxide in the air from burning fuels such as coal, gasoline and natural gas helps plants produce more pollen. Allergists say that pollen season in the U.S. used to start around St. Patrick’s Day and now often starts around Valentine’s Day.
Allergies are especially difficult for the 25 million Americans with asthma.
How to find relief
So what can you do to relieve your allergy symptoms?
The Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit American academic medical center based in Minnesota, urges a variety of strategies that include, reducing exposure to allergy triggers, using the air conditioner, taking an over-the-counter medication — and seeing a specialist.
To reduce your exposure: Stay indoors, especially on dry, windy days. Rain helps clear pollen from the air. Avoid lawn mowing, weed pulling and other gardening chores that stir up allergens.
Close doors and windows when pollen counts are high. Use a portable high-efficiency particulate air filter in your bedroom. Clean floors often with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter.
Remove clothes you’ve worn outside and shower to rinse pollen from your skin and hair.
If you must be around pollen, wear a face mask.
Over-the-counter remedies can help, such as oral antihistamines — Zyrtec, Allegra, Claritin and Alavert — that relieve sneezing, itching, a stuffy or runny nose and watery eyes, and corticosteroid nasal sprays, such as Flonase, Rhinocort and Nasacort.
Oral decongestants, such as Sudafed, also can help.
The Mayo Clinic also suggests talking to your doctor about prescriptions and other treatments, such as allergy shots. Regular injections containing tiny amounts of the substances that cause your allergies may help reduce the immune system reaction.
Some people eventually develop a tolerance to allergens.
Slonager said when she was a child, she suffered from allergies. But as she got older, her body became more tolerant of whatever was irritating her immune system and she said they no longer make her feel as sick.
She also took steps to remove allergens from her environment, and improve her immune system with rest, exercise and good nutrition.
“I don’t have allergies anymore, and I don’t take medications for them,” she said. “It’s an important issue to bring up. People think that the first thing they should do is turn to medication, but you have to take a step back and look at everything.”
Free Press archives contributed. Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or [email protected]
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