Seasonal Allergies: What You Need To Know
Pollen is an airborne substance that comes from grass, flowering plants, trees, and weeds. In the past 12 months, 19.2 million adults and 5.2 million children under 18 were diagnosed with hay fever, the name given to allergic rhinitis caused by pollen. When someone has hay fever, their immune system identifies pollen as a threat and releases signals that lead to congestion, itchy eyes, runny nose, and sneezing, as well as problems like sinus pressure and allergic conjunctivitis .
The amount of pollen in the air depends on the season and the geographic area in which you live. The study reported in PNAS found the most pronounced effects in Texas and the Midwestern United States. However, the Northeast can have a significant spring allergy season as well, Dr. Leeds says. Tree allergies are especially common in New Englandparticularly due to birch and oak. Pollen allergies can also cause a cross-reaction with certain foods in some people symptoms include an itchy or tingling mouth and throat after eating raw fruits and vegetables, seeds, and nuts.
People may also have allergic reactions to grass pollen in the late spring to early summer and weed pollen in the fall. Many people are multi-sensitized, so they are allergic to more than one type of pollen, and they can be symptomatic through all of the warm weather seasons, Dr. Leeds says. Pollen can be carried by the wind, so windy days are the worst.
Your Allergy Symptoms Can Become Worse
Kraft said there are several reasons your allergy symptoms might worsen.
For example, differences in pollen count and how much time youve spent outdoors could expose you to more pollen.
Factors not directly related to your allergy could play a role as well, including air quality, pollution, and weather changes, which can worsen your nasal symptoms.
Friedlander added that a changing immune system could also worsen allergy symptoms.
Allergies can change over time, so some years can be especially bad, he said.
One other thing to keep in mind, said Friedlander, is that your symptoms may be better or worse once you stop wearing a mask for COVID-19.
Masks have both helped those with allergies as well as making them worse for others, Friedlander said. Masks can help filter out allergens and infection, but others have had a harder time breathing or with their sinuses.
He believes there will now be more allergy exposure as more mask mandates are lifted.
Theres no reason to suffer. Allergy providers have great treatments, said Friedlander. They can help you feel better and even prevent symptoms from occurring in the first place.
Kraft further explained that allergy treatment consists of three parts: avoidance, medication, and immunotherapy.
While you cant completely avoid pollen, Kraft said you can minimize your exposure by keeping windows closed in your home and car.
Nasal spray and antihistamines can give you relief from your symptoms as well, she said.
Climate Change And The Pandemic Are Playing A Huge Role
Year over year, were finding climate change is a major factor in worsening symptoms for spring and fall pollen seasons, said Kenneth Mendez, the CEO and president of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
The rising temps and increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are making pollen seasons heavier and longer. Allergy season is now 10 days longer than it was in 1990, and trees, grass and weeds are producing 21% more pollen. More pollen means more runny noses, watery eyes and itchy throats.
Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase in pollen counts on a yearly basis, and this is due to global warming and an increase in CO2, which we know plays a role in higher pollen counts, said Payel Gupta, an allergist and immunologist and medical director of the at-home allergy clinic Cleared.
The recent warm weather were seeing this year and in the past few years is to blame. Plants bloom in warm weather, then tree, grass and weed pollen pick up and fly into the air around us.
In the past, warm weather didnt appear until April or so, delaying pollen-producing plants from blooming. But its been getting warmer earlier year after year. Some areas in the Northeast saw 70-degree days as early as January this year. On top of that, the first freeze we typically see each fall is happening later in the year. Mendez said this keeps flowering pants like ragweed a major source of allergies alive and well.
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Why Is Allergy Season 2020 Worse Than Most
The reason for the worsening allergies this season is that two pollen seasons are overlapping in an unusual way. Ordinarily, tree pollen saturates the air in April and May. By June, trees finish their pollination, and grasses begin theirs. This leads to a steady pollen level throughout the spring and early summer, producing a normal allergy season.
This year, though, the dynamic is a bit different. Cool weather and rains lasted longer into the spring than usual in many parts of the United States this year. As a result, the pollination season for trees began later than normal. This has meant an overlap between tree pollen and grass pollen season that has led to more severe allergies for many people.
How To Combat Seasonal Allergies
Outdoors isn’t the only danger zone for the allergy-prone. As Peters tells us, “Indoor allergens such as dust and pet dander are also at higher levels because of increased build up as many of us have been confined more indoors this past year working from home.” So how can we avoid allergy triggers if it’s not safe to go outside, but indoors has its hazards, too? While there isn’t much you can do about the great outdoors apart from enjoying it through a window, Peters does say there are a few things you can do to reduce your indoor risk level. Dust-proof mattresses and pillow covers are worth investing in, Peters advises, but adds that you should try to cut down on fabric-based furnishings in your bedroom and throughout your house since rugs, tapestries, curtains, etc. can all trap and hold dust. She also suggests using a hypoallergenic laundry detergent such as Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin.
If all else fails, you could always pack your bags and move, or at least relocate for the summer. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, the worst possible place for allergic folks to live is Joe Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. The least allergy-triggering burg in the U.S., however, is Durham, North Carolina, while other top picks for the allergy-prone include Seattle, Milwaukee, and Denver.
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Talk To Your Doctor About Allergy Medications
Like any drug, allergy meds can interact with others youre on or cause side effects, including drowsiness, prostate problems, brain fog and heart issues, in certain underlying conditions, Parikh says. So, while there are a lot of good options available OTC, that doesnt mean theyre automatically safe for you. All these meds are not necessarily benign. I would not wing it, Dvorin says. Chat with your doc first.
Give Your Sinuses A Bath
For a medication-free option, consider nasal irrigation. The practice traces back thousands of years to the Ayurvedic medical traditions of India and its effectiveness is backed by research. To try it yourself, use a neti pot, bulb syringe or squeeze bottle and pour a saline solution in one nostril, letting it drain out the other.
It seems like a simple concept, but it helps flush out mucus, pollen and other allergens in your nasal cavity, said Dr. Laura Chong, an allergist at the Oklahoma Allergy & Asthma Clinic in Oklahoma City.
The result is that you feel less congested and you may need less allergy medication, Dr. Chong said.
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Pollen Is Becoming Impossible To Avoid
Allergies occur when the bodys internal radar system locks onto the wrong target, causing the immune system to overreact to an otherwise harmless substance.
This can cause mild annoyances like hives or itchy eyes, or life-threatening issues like anaphylaxis, where blood pressure plummets and airways start swelling shut.
About 8 percent of US adults suffer from hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, brought on by pollen allergies.Most cases can be treated with antihistamines, but they cost the US between $3.4 billion and $11.2 billion each year just in direct medical expenses, with a substantially higher toll from lost productivity. Complications like pollen-induced asthma attacks have also proven fatal in some instances and lead to more than 20,000 emergency room visits each year in the US.
Pollen is a fine powder produced as part of the sexualreproductive cycle of many varieties of plants, including elm trees, ryegrass, and ragweed.
Its released in response to environmental signals like temperature, precipitation, and sunlight. Grains of pollen range in size from 9 microns to 200 microns, so some types of pollen can travel deep into the lungs and cause irritation, even for people who dont have allergies. High concentrations of pollen in the air trigger allergic reactions and can spread for miles, even indoors if structures are not sealed.
What Are The Most Common Spring And Summer Allergies How Do The Two Seasons Differ In Terms Of Allergies
The most common spring and summer allergies are the pollens and molds. The pollens come from various types of trees, grasses and weeds. In Chicago, the trees generally pollinate in March, April and May. The grass pollinates in May and June. The weeds pollinate from mid-August through the end of September. Outdoor mold starts creeping up at the beginning of June but really becomes a problem in September and October when the leaves are falling from the trees. The mold counts stay high until the first frost.
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What Can You Do To Protect Yourself From Seasonal Allergies
When it comes to preventing allergies, one of the best things you can do is to use a HEPA air purifier in your home. This type of air purifier uses filters that can easily capture the pollen that causes seasonal allergic reactions. By using a high-quality air purifier, you can keep the pollen levels in your home to a minimum. To see some of our recommended units, check out our complete selection of air purifiers for allergies and asthma.
In addition to limiting the presence of pollen in your home, you can consider changes to your routine that will limit your exposure. Try to avoid outdoor exercise when pollen is at its peak, and keep your windows closed to avoid more pollen getting inside. If you suffer from severe enough allergies, you can also consider taking over the counter antihistamine medications, though these tend to make people feel drowsy.
If you have to be outside, you might also want to consider using the face mask you would normally wear to prevent COVID-19 transmission. Surgical masks can help to block some pollen from being inhaled. Since most of us have plenty of masks available these days, it makes sense to use them to reduce pollen exposure as well. Be aware, though, that wearing a mask will only help with respiratory allergies. Pollen will still get into your eyes and cause watering or itching, even with a mask.
How Can I Manage My Allergies This Year
You arent powerless in the face of high pollen countsOgden suggests a few simple steps:
- Check pollen counts before you leave the house. Check out the National Allergy Bureau for pollen counts in your area. Pollen counts are reported as low, moderate, high, or very high. Avoid being outside on days with high or very high pollen counts, especially on windy days, Ogden says.
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Manage Your Allergy Symptoms
While there are changes you can make to your day-to-day activities to decrease your pollen exposure, medication remains a mainstay of allergy treatment. Still, the last thing you may want to do is to add another tablet to your pillbox. So its important to find the right medication strategy to manage your symptoms. Start with a nasal steroid spray, such as fluticasone , triamcinolone or . These reduce nasal swelling and mucous to clear your sinuses, and are known to stop the immune response called by allergies and prevent severe symptoms, says Donald Dvorin, M.D., an allergist in Mt. Laurel Township, New Jersey. Ideally, theyre started in advance of when symptoms normally start, as they can take a week to work. Use these daily and as directed . Shooting this up your nose may not be the most pleasant sensation, but consistency is key.
As for which one to choose, Dvorin says that some sensitive patients find Flonase irritating because it contains alcohol, so try Nasacort first. One note : These are different than oxymetazoline , a nasal congestion spray. Nasal steroid sprays can be used long-term, whereas you should not use Afrin for more than three consecutive days, otherwise rather paradoxically congestion could get worse.
Allergy Season : Why Your Symptoms Are Worse Than Ever
Many people with seasonal allergies are struggling right now, trapped in a vicious cycle of coughing, sneezing, wheezing and itching.
If this sounds like you, you might be wondering whats going on. Is this allergy season particularly brutal, or do your symptoms just seem worse because you were inside and not exposed to many allergens in spring 2020? Or is it all in your head?
According to allergists, its not just you. Its true your allergies may feel worse this year. Heres the deal and how to find some relief:
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Start Your Allergy Medications Early
Depending on when your allergies hit it may be too late for this, but starting your allergy meds before you’re symptomatic is helpful, explains Dr. Parikh. “If you know you’re prone at a certain time of the year, start all of your preventative medicines early,” she says. “I have all my patients start any medicines they need for their allergies or asthma in March, early on so that way when the season hits, it’s not as bad for them.”
How To Alleviate Your Allergy Symptoms
Leeds recommended wearing a brimmed hat and sunglasses to keep pollen out of your eyes and nose. A solid rinse can also work wonders after spending time outside.
Wash your hands and face after being outdoors for long periods of time, and consider changing your clothes, she said.
If you are particularly sensitive, limit your time outdoors on poor air-quality days. Consider washing your eyes and nose with a saline solution. You might also want to swap out your contact lenses for eyeglasses, as pollen can cling onto lenses and irritate the eye. Cleaning your lenses more frequently and opting for daily disposable contacts can also help relieve itchy, watery eyes.
Pollen can get trapped inside your home, so keep your windows shut and car doors closed. Vacuum often to get rid of allergens trapped in your carpet. If you have AC, set it to nonrecirculated air.
AAFA also recommends using a HEPA air filter to purify the air in your house. And pets can be pollen magnets, so giving them a good rub down is a good idea after a springtime walk, Gupta said.
You might also want to hold onto your face mask a bit longer. The masks we use to protect ourselves against the coronavirus act as a barrier against pollen, too. The better the mask, the better the protection.
N95 masks are ideal for this, but standard masks most people are using to protect one another from COVID-19 also work, Mendez said.
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How To Reduce Your Allergy Symptoms
If youre suffering from allergies but dont want to deal with the fog and tiredness that come with antihistamine medications, there are several steps you can take to limit your exposure to this seasons excessive pollen. For starters, keep pollen out of your home by closing the windows and using the air conditioning system to circulate air. This will keep your home comfortable without allowing pollen in. You can also limit your time spent outside by exercising indoors and only going out when its absolutely necessary.
If you want to be especially careful, you might even consider changing your clothes and shoes and taking a shower whenever you come in from outside. This will keep pollen from spreading inside your home and get it off of your skin and hair before it can cause an allergic reaction. This step may be unnecessary for mild allergy sufferers, but its a good idea if you or someone you live with suffers from severe allergies, asthma, COPD or other respiratory illnesses.
Finally, you can protect yourself with a high-quality HEPA air purifier. The fine filter material in a HEPA purifier can easily capture grains of pollen, removing them from the air in your home. By capturing pollen before it has a chance to cause an allergy flare-up, you can reduce your overall symptoms during the heavy allergy season of 2020. Some of our top recommendations for allergy control include the Amaircare 3000 HEPA, Airpura I600, Austin Air Allergy Machine and Rabbit Air Minus A2.
Why Has The Allergy Season Of 2021 Been So Bad
The bad allergy season so far is largely the result of the mild winter seen across most of the country. Mold that would normally die off in the winter months remained due to warmer temperatures. That, combined with unusually high levels of tree pollen, has set off severe allergies for many people. Even individuals who normally suffer from no allergies or very mild symptoms have had bad reactions this spring. So, if youve noticed abnormal allergic reactions in 2021, youre far from alone.
More broadly, the unusually bad allergy season ties back to climate change. As mentioned above, warmer winters are less likely to kill off allergy-inducing molds. Because winter temperatures are growing progressively warmer across large parts of the world, we can expect to see a continuance of bad allergy conditions in the coming years.
In addition to allowing more allergens to survive until spring, a warming climate can lengthen the annual allergy season. As winter temperatures arrive later and depart earlier, both fall and spring allergy seasons are extended. This can be a real problem for severe allergy sufferers, who now find themselves living with allergies for large portions of the year.
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