If you think allergy season has been bad, just wait

If you think allergy season has been bad, just wait

If you think this allergy season has been bad, just wait. It’s about to get worse.

A new study predicts warming temperatures could extend the ragweed season, making the weed’s pollen even more potent. This pollen boom means that the number of people suffering from hay fever and ragweed pollen allergies could double over the next three decades.

“Pollen allergy is a major public health problem globally, but it has not been known what sort of an impact climate change will have,” said Dr. Iain Lake, lead researcher from the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences. “This is the first study to quantify what the consequences of climate change on pollen allergy may be.”

Ragweed can often be seen growing alongside highways and in forested areas. Ragweed blooms and releases billions of pollen grains into the air from August to November, causing all sorts of problems for allergy sufferers.

The research team investigated the potential impact of climate change on ragweed plant distribution, plant productivity, pollen production and dispersal and its impact on Europe. They mapped out estimated ragweed pollen counts throughout the season combined with data on where people live and the levels of allergy in the population.

The results indicated that the number of people affected by Ragweed pollen is expected to double in Europe from 33 to 77 million people by 2050.

“Our research shows that ragweed pollen allergy will become a common health problem across Europe, expanding into areas where it is currently uncommon,” said Lake. “The problem is likely to increase in countries with an existing ragweed problem.”

Lake added that higher ragweed pollen concentrations and a longer ragweed pollen season may also increase the severity of symptoms.

Hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis is caused when allergens from trees and grasses float through the air in fall and spring, according to the National Institutes of Health. The allergens, which can enter your nose, eyes, ears and mouth, trigger an allergic reaction.

While the study was based in Europe, Dr. Raymond Pongonis, who is on staff at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., specializes in allergies, asthma and immunology for both children and adults, and says Illinois will unfortunately not be isolated from the effects of global warming.

“Ragweed season is already miserable in the Midwest, so if these prediction models are correct, this would not bode well for hay fever sufferers in the future,” says Pongonis. “Longer pollen seasons and higher concentrations of ragweed (and potentially other pollens) will not only result in an increased severity of symptoms for current allergy patients, but will also increase the number of people who become sensitized or develop an allergy to pollen. Without proper diagnosis and management, this will lead to more missed school or work days, more sinus infections and more emergency room visits for asthma exacerbations.”

What can you do to better control your allergies? Aside from over-the-counter allergy remedies, avoidance remains the mainstay of treatment for all forms of allergy. Consider trying these environmental control measures:

  • Avoid the outdoors when allergens are at their peak. Pollen is highest in the morning.
  • Keep your windows closed and use either an air conditioner or humidifier.
  • Wash pollen off body and out of hair before settling in for the night.
  • Use a neti pot or another sinus rinse to wash pollen out of nasal passages.
  • Wash bedding once a week.
  • Be aware that pets can bring pollen into the home.

If your allergies are severe and not controlled with avoidance and over-the-counter remedies, an appointment with an allergist may be a good next step. An allergist can empower patients by helping them identify the root cause of their symptoms. They will also outline a personalized treatment plan, which is likely to include antihistamines, decongestants, corticosteroids and allergen-specific avoidance measures.

This visit will also open the door to the option of higher-level treatments for allergy, such as immunotherapy (or allergy shots), which is reserved for patients who do not achieve adequate symptom control with standard medical therapy or those who prefer a more natural/holistic approach to managing symptoms and achieving a better quality of life.

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About the Author

Johnna Kelly
Johnna Kelly

Johnna Kelly, healthe news contributor, is a manager of public affairs and marketing at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. She is a former newspaper reporter and spent nearly 10 years as a public relations professional working for state and county government. During her time as a communications staffer for the Illinois General Assembly, she was integral in drafting and passing legislation creating Andrea's Law, the nation's first murderer registry. In her spare time, she volunteers at a local homeless shelter, enjoys traveling, photography and watching the Chicago Bulls.