Spring allergy season is here, and experts are predicting that it’s only going to get worse.
“Anybody who’s having allergic reactions to natural things, it’s going to be trees right now,” said Sarah Elder, Remington Nature Center manager. “… they’re budding, it means winter is over, and there’s going to be beautiful green leaves. But, it’s also going to mean some sneezing and watery eyes.”
Allergy season usually begins in early spring, as warm weather causes plants to bloom and start producing pollen. A new study published in the journal Nature Communications predicts by the year 2100, the start of spring pollen emissions will begin up to 40 days earlier, and emissions from weeds and grasses in the fall will last up to 15 days longer.
Elder is a lifelong sufferer of allergies herself, starting with hay fever when she was young. Now, she has asthma and is on medication for allergy symptoms such as runny nose, watery eyes, coughing and wheezing. She’s not thrilled to hear about a potential longer allergy season.
“It’s like, okay, so we’ll just add another month,” Elder said. “It’s just one more thing.”
Not only will pollen emissions last longer, but more pollen will be produced. The research states the amount of pollen being produced per year could double by the year 2100. As the global temperature and amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide increase, pollen production will increase as well.
The study’s simulations conclude that the increasing amount of pollen and longer pollen seasons will increase the likelihood of seasonal allergies.
Dr. Mark Goto is an otolaryngologist — more commonly known as an ear, nose and throat doctor — at Mosaic Life Care, and said environmental allergies largely depend on the weather and what grows well in a given year.
“If things get warmer and stay warmer and have plenty of rain, regardless of where the trend for the climate is going, we’re going to have an especially tough allergy season,” Goto said.
Elder said in Buchanan County, there are more than a dozen species of trees, five weeds and three grasses that trigger seasonal allergies in the springtime. Some common pollen-producing trees include many types of oaks and hickories, as well as some walnut, willow and ash trees.
“Because it’s getting warmer sooner, flowers are pollinating, trees are pollinating right now and the winds are blowing,” Elder said. “It makes logical sense that with a longer growing season, you’re going to have a longer allergy season.”
Elder is already feeling the effects of the lengthening allergy season. She usually makes it to April before her nose starts twitching, but this year, her symptoms have already begun in March.
Goto said 10-15% of the general population has severe seasonal allergies, many of which are triggered by pollen, mold or dust mites. Typical allergy symptoms include a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, dry and itchy eyes, itchy ears, cough and itchiness in the throat, but Goto said they’re individualized to each person.
“Be attuned to your body,” Goto said. “Know what your symptoms are and how you react to certain things.”
He said it’s not a bad idea to take over-the-counter allergy medications to help fight allergies, and he usually recommends a nasal saline that washes irritants out of the nose. For more severe cases, people can get a shot or take drops that are specific to a certain type of allergen.
Rex Robinson, pharmacist at Rogers Pharmacy, said antihistamines are easy, over-the-counter medications to treat allergy symptoms. Other available products include nasal sprays and neti pots. He recommends that if someone knows what triggers their allergies, try to avoid that exposure.
“If you know you’re going to have a problem mowing the grass, you get the kid next door to mow it for you,” Robinson said. “Not everybody can do that, but if you know you’re going to be exposed to it, you try to avoid that exposure, but that’s easier said than done.”
Despite enjoying the outdoors and managing the Remington Nature Center, Elder is allergic to eleven species of trees and most grasses. She takes over-the-counter allergy medication and prescription allergy drops to help calm her reactions. She hopes other people don’t let allergies keep them from enjoying the outdoors, either.
“You can manage them and still be outside, still enjoy the plants, the flowers, the trees, and enjoy taking a walk wherever you want to … obviously you don’t want to be miserable, but you won’t want to stay cooped up in your house either,” Elder said.