Flowers are budding and temperatures are rising, which can only mean one thing: allergy season is upon us.
Several states including Illinois, North Carolina and Tennessee are already reporting increases in patients complaining of itching, watering eyes, sneezing and coughing.
Meteorologists are predicting that 2019 may be the worst year ever for allergies and the culprit is pollen.
Pollen counts have been rising across the country and, according to the National Allergy Map, half the country is experiencing high levels, much earlier than usual for this time of year.
Experts say climate change with milder winters and much more rain is why pollen season is beginning earlier – with some suggesting that it could lead to people suffering from even worse symptoms in the future.
Approximately eight percent of American adults aged 18 and over suffer from hay fever as a result of pollen allergies. Pictured: Yellow pollen haze tints the sky yellow in Durham, North Carolina, in April 2019
About half of the US is experiencing high levels of pollen, the fine powder from flowering plants much earlier than usual for this time of year. Pictured: Pollen haze covers Durham, North Carolina in April 2019
Allergies occur when the body’s immune system views a substance as harmful and overreacts to it.
Reactions may be mildly annoying from sneezing and watery eyes to life-threatening such as anaphylactic shock, which is when blood pressure suddenly drops and airways narrow, preventing someone from breathing normally.
Having a pollen allergy means you experience an allergic reaction to a powder found on flowering plants.
Because pollen is microscopic in size – less than 0.007 inches – it can travel far distances and is easily inhaled, getting deep into the lungs.
Grass and tree pollen typically is released between April and May while pollen from weeds, like ragweed, comes in June and July.
WHAT IS HAY FEVER?
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen, a fine powder which comes from plants.
There is more pollen in the air in the spring and summer seasons, when plants are flowering.
The reaction usually happens when pollen comes into contact with someone’s eyes, nose, mouth or throat.
- Runny nose
- Itchy, red or watery eyes
People suffering from the allergy can put take over-the-counter medication, wash clothes regularly, and vacuum and dust indoors.
Avoiding grass, cut flowers and smoke can help reduce symptoms, as can drying clothes indoors where pollen is less likely to stick to them.
Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, about eight percent of US adults aged 18 and over suffer from hay fever, which is the allergic reaction to pollen.
Most symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines like Zyrtec, Allegra and Claritin, but these cost the US between $3.4 billion and $11.2 billion annually in ‘direct medical expenses’, reported Vox.
In recent days, parts of the US – particularly the Southeast and Midwest – have had such high counts of pollen that a thick haze has been seen covering the sky.
Experts say pollen from various plants has been appearing earlier every year, making the season last longer.
According to a study from the Environmental Protection Agency, the ragweed pollen season increased by nearly 20 days in the last 10 years in states such as Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota and Wisconsin.
By some estimates, pollen counts are expected to double – even triple – what they were in 2000.
Scientists from Rutgers University calculated that average pollen counts in 2000 were around 8,500 grains per cubic meter of air. By 2040, it’s expected to reach nearly 22,000 grains per cubic meter of air.
Additionally, according to Climate Central, ragweed production had a concentration of 370 parts per million in 2000. By 2060, this is expected to rise to 600 parts per million.
Dr Sandra Hong, a staff allergist at Cleveland Clinic, told DailyMail.com that climate change – including warmer and milder weather with heavy rains – is leading to more pollen being produced and for longer periods of time.
She adds that as pollen counts, potentially increase, it could lead to worsening symptoms for sufferers.
Experts say that the reason for the early pollen season is climate change, including rising temperatures and lots of rain. Pictured: Clouds push pollen over Durham, North Carolina, in April 2019
One allergist told DailyMail.com that as pollen counts rise, the severity of people’s allergies will worsen in the future. Pictured: Rain falls over a pollen-affected area in Durham, North Carolina, in April 2019
‘You won’t necessarily have more people suffering from allergies – because people are predisposed to that – but people’s symptoms will be significantly be worse,’ she said.
So what can allergy sufferers do to limit their symptoms this season?
Dr Hong recommends whether you’re in your house or your car to keep the windows close and use air conditioning instead.
‘I tell people to make sure that, if they have seasonal allergies, keep windows closed and the use the AC so that air is recirculated rather than bringing in pollen from outside,’ she said.
She also suggests taking a shower at bedtime to get rid of any pollen and advises against pets sleeping in the same bed.
‘Pets coming in from outside can bring pollen in with them, so people with allergies can have increase in symptoms because of that,’ Dr Hong said.
And while symptoms can often be controlled with over-the-counter nasal sprays and antihistamines, she advises seeing a doctor if the condition worsens.
‘If avoidance techniques and medications are not working, and they’re still doing worse, then they should go see a primary care physician or an allergist,’ Dr Hong said.