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Allergy Season Appears To Be Getting Worse

Warmer temperatures, rising CO2 levels, even thunderstorms all have an impact on how we experience allergies, experts say. 

Spring might be a welcomed relief from winter’s cold. But for many, the uptick in temperatures and the blooming trees and flowers lead to weeks of blowing their nose, being red-eyed and feeling scratchy.

Yes, allergy season is back, and according to experts, climate change is not making things better.

“We have the greenhouse effect, which in [Israel and] countries like ours prolongs the warm season, creates more air pollution, more flowering time and apparently also very high flowering intensity, which all bring down the lives of people with allergies,” Dr. Yuval Tal, director of the clinical immunology and allergy unit at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, said.

“Another thing that’s related to the greenhouse effect is the rise of carbon dioxide,” he said. “The more you increase the temporality of the CO2, the longer you let the flowers blossom and create more pollen.”

Many people are allergic to lavender bushes such as these. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Pollen in the air is the ever-present nightmare for people suffering from respiratory allergies.

According to the Mayo Clinic: “The severity of allergies varies from person to person and can range from minor irritation to anaphylaxis — a potentially life-threatening emergency. While most allergies can’t be cured, treatments can help relieve your allergy symptoms.”

However, things could certainly get worse before they get better for those who dread the pollen season.

University of Michigan researchers predict that by 2100, it could start up to 40 days earlier and last up to 19 days longer, with pollen production expected to increase by up to 200%.

Their study published in the journal Nature Communications gives credence to the words of Gabriela Adler, chief scientist at the Israeli air quality monitoring and forecasting company Breezometer. She points out that “pollen is seasonal, and it varies from species to species.”

She says trees have both an emission mechanism and a scattering mechanism.

“The emission mechanism emits pollen when the conditions are optimal, and it feels that the pollen won’t go to waste,” Adler says. “Good conditions are a high temperature and relatively low humidity. For trees, that usually happens around spring.”

Thunderstorms can create havoc with regular pollination patterns, Tal said.

“There’s the whole issue of extreme weather. If for example, you have a lightning storm, then the lightning makes the pollen hover off the ground, and the electricity in the air opens the proteins,” he said.

Though sneezes due to allergies have been with us a long time, it appears such immune-system responses are getting more common and stronger. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

Just as climate change-related weather has affected many people’s susceptibility to allergies, so too have modern lifestyles.

“Chronic stress makes allergic diseases more difficult to balance because of a protein in the blood that’s the main protein in the allergic process. It makes the state of allergies worse and more stubborn in the face of treatment. I think that’s no less substantial than other things,” Tal says.

Both he and Adler recommend preventative measures and treatment.

Adler says relatively minor decisions about hanging the laundry outside or taking the dog for a walk that factor in pollen levels can minimize a person’s exposure and suffering.

“It’s mostly about being aware that things can change from day to day and that it’s dynamic, even when it’s allergy season,” Adler says.

Tal recommends forgoing over-the-counter antihistamines in favor of a visit to a specialist.

“Professionals have the tools to help people. We can help around 90 percent of patients,” he said.

“An anti-allergy pill isn’t always the solution. … Going to an expert at a good center is the most effective solution that I can offer,” Tal says.

Produced in association with ISRAEL21c.

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