No Break for Seasonal Allergies: Severe Pollen is the New Normal

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woman holding tissue to her nose with both hands

Climate change has hit seasonal allergy sufferers like a punch in the nose. Since 1990, warming temperatures have made pollen seasons longer and pollen counts higher across North America, says a new study. And now, after more than a year of the coronavirus pandemic, people are hitting the parks and bike trails with renewed vigor, increasing their exposure to pollen.

The result: Clinicians say they’ve seen a spike in patients seeking help for allergic reactions to pollen, such as nasal congestion, runny nose and itchy eyes – the body’s immune response when antibodies mistake pollen as a foreign invader.

“We definitely have had more patients referred to the allergy clinic because of symptoms,” says allergy and immunology specialist Princess Ogbogu, MD. Dr. Ogbogu is Chief of the Division of Pediatric Allergy, Immunology and Rheumatology at UH Rainbow.

Exploring Treatments

With spring comes an explosion of tree pollen, followed by grass and weed pollens later in the season.

“Now that allergy season is here, if a person is symptomatic and not responding to over-the-counter medications, or if a person wants to limit medications and see what other treatment options are available, they should see a board-certified allergist-immunologist,” Dr. Ogbogu says.

Seasonal allergies can have a big impact on quality of life, affecting concentration, mood, sleep and productivity.

“A lot of people resign themselves to feeling that way when allergy season comes around, but they don’t have to,” Dr. Ogbogu says.

For some patients, allergens can also trigger asthma symptoms in the lungs and airways. Certain allergy treatments such as immunotherapy – allergy shots – also may help alleviate asthma by taming immune response to allergens.

Allergy shots are usually effective, curbing hay fever symptoms in about 85 percent of sufferers, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

What You Can Do at Home

These preventive steps also will reduce suffering, says Dr. Ogbogu:

  • If you know when your symptoms typically begin, start medications a couple weeks earlier.
  • Plan for travel, keeping in mind regional variations. Allergens affect people at different times, depending on location and weather conditions. Pollen forecasts differ region to region.
  • Keep windows closed as much as possible during pollen season. Turn on air conditioning at home and in the car where available.
  • After spending time outdoors, remove shoes and clothing, shower and wash hair.
  • Don’t hang laundry outside to dry.
  • Wear hats and sunglasses outside when pollen levels are high.
  • Check pollen counts daily and know when pollen levels are highest. Dry and windy conditions can exacerbate pollen conditions, while rain tamps it down.

Related Links

Allergy and immunology specialists at University Hospitals provide the latest medical advancements in diagnostic and treatment options for both acute and chronic allergy conditions. Our board-certified allergy doctors offer highly specialized care for children and adults with allergies. Learn more about allergy treatment options at University Hospitals.

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