It seems as though every spring allergy comes in like a lion and roars out like...an even bigger lion. The 2013 spring allergy season was a miserable one, starting a full 14 days earlier than normal, and the 2012 season was prolonged and painful as well. For 2014, expect much of the same, as trees' pollination was delayed by a prolonged winter. This year, they'll all begin blooming at once, allergists predict, and might coincide with equally sneeze-inducing grasses, combining for what promises to be an unpleasant season for spring-allergy sufferers.
So should we expect each spring allergy season to be worse than the last, in an eternal one-upmanship that sends us running for the tissue box or the asthma inhaler?
Probably so. And the pattern could hold true for fall allergies as well. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the length of ragweed season in various areas of the country increased by as much as 27 days between 1995 and 2009. The culprit? Climate change, the researchers said.
"The seasons are getting longer," says Stanley Fineman, MD, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and an allergist at the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic. "And not only is there warmer weather, there tends to be more CO2 in atmosphere." CO2, or carbon dioxide, from greenhouse-gas emissions, feeds plants and leads to a greater release of pollen, and sometimes that pollen is more potent and more allergenic than it was when there was less CO2 in the atmosphere.
Another culprit? Pollution, both from climate-changing greenhouse gases and more day-to-day sources like our cars. "Studies have shown that if we can reduce the amount of pollution and exhaust fumes, we can reduce the problems that people with allergies and asthma have," Dr. Fineman says. "It's less likely to cause flare-ups."
Managing your allergies on a day-to-day basis may, however, be easier and offer a more immediate solution than trying to solve climate change. And it's important to keep them from getting out of control. Past research has linked allergies to problems as diverse as poor sleep, clinical depression, and even low sex drive. "There's no question about it," Dr. Fineman says. "People with allergies feel run-down, have difficulty concentrating, and don't have as much energy as they normally do. When you feel that way, it affects your whole mood."
Here are five tips for coping with your spring allergies:
#1: Know the triggers. Just because you sneeze during spring doesn't necessarily mean you're allergic to May flowers, or even pollen for that matter. You could be allergic to mold or fungus, both of which are exacerbated by April showers. Grass and trees are other common spring allergy triggers, and knowing your enemy will help you learn what to avoid. Dr. Fineman recommends visiting an allergist and getting a skin prick test, which is the most accurate way to diagnose an allergy.
#2: Then, avoid them. Keeping your windows shut and staying indoors on dry and windy days, when pollen is more likely to get blown around, will help if you're allergic to pollen. But staying inside on rainy or excessively humid days could help, too, if mold is what triggers your allergies. Though rain washes pollen away, "fungus and mold spores love the humidity," Dr. Fineman says. "That's why it's important to find out what's triggering your allergy."
#3: Get help from a goat. Goats can mow your grass for you, saving you the hassle of dealing with allergenic grass clippings. Neti pots, those strange-looking teapot-type things you see in natural health stores, have been scientifically shown to reduce allergy symptoms. Not convinced? Try one of these other natural allergy remedies.
#4: Evict chemicals from your kitchen. Certain household chemicals can aggravate or even cause both indoor and outdoor allergies. The primary culprit is triclosan, the active ingredient in antibacterial soaps. Scientists from the University of Michigan recently found that people who commonly used products containing the ingredient were more likely to suffer from allergies or hay fever.
#5: Watch what you eat. People who are allergic to pollen can also have oral allergy syndrome, which affects about a third of seasonal allergy sufferers. Your immune system sees a similarity between the proteins of pollen and those in some foods, such as apples, cherries, pears, apricots, kiwis, plums, or nuts. Avoid these when your allergy symptoms are at their worst, and opt instead for leafy greens (spinach, collard greens, and kale, for instance) and citrus fruits, all of which are full of allergy-fighting folic acid. And visit the Home Remedies Finder for more natural remedies for allergies.
Published on: May 3, 2011
Updated on: April 23, 2014