CLEVELAND, Ohio — Climate change is supercharging allergy season, making misery season last longer and hit harder.
Allergy sufferers should start taking medications or reducing their exposure to pollen earlier in the year, said Brooke Lappe, a doctoral student at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. Lappe specializes in pollen, climate change and health.
“In Atlanta, we had spring allergies start at the end of January, as opposed to the end of February when they usually start,” Lappe said. “People are having to take those preventative measures earlier and longer because the season lasts longer as well.”
Warmer, wetter weather is allowing trees, grass and weeds to produce more pollen for a longer period.
In Cleveland, allergy season has lengthened by 32 days since 1970, according to Climate Central, a nonprofit news organization focused on climate science.
Some others parts of the United States have also seen allergy season expand by 30 or more days since 1970, Climate Central said.
Climate change also makes allergy season rougher across the country.
Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere supercharge photosynthesis, which also allows trees and plants to produce more pollen, Lappe said.
More frequent thunderstorms break down pollen grains, so they enter the lungs more easily and cause more extreme immune reactions in allergy sufferers.
“Some of these changes in pollen due to climate change could have major impacts on human health such as increasing individuals’ exposure to pollen and their risk of having allergy and/or asthma symptoms,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Late April Cleveland pollen counts have been low for tree, grass, weed, ragweed and mold, according to the Academy of Medicine of Cleveland & Northern Ohio Pollen Line.
Some U.S. cities have worse pollen production than others.
Wichita, Kansas, was the most challenging place for Americans with spring allergies to live, according to the 2023 rankings from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
After Wichita, the other bad-for-allergies cities in the top five of the foundation’s rankings were Dallas, Texas; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Ohio cities were ranked as better than average on the Asthma and Allergy Foundation’s list of 100 cities. They included Cincinnati (No. 78), Columbus (No. 92), Akron (No. 96) and Cleveland (No. 98).
Nearly 1-in-3 American adults and more than 1-in-4 American children reported having a seasonal allergy, eczema or food allergy in 2021, according to data released in January from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.
The culprit is pollen, tiny particles that are dispersed and carried on the wind from flowering trees, grass and weeds — the three dominant pollen categories.
Though pollen counts are typically higher during the warmer seasons, some plants pollinate year-round. Pollen levels tend to peak in the morning hours, after rainfall and on windy and warm days.
Exposure to pollen has been linked to asthma attacks and increases in hospital admissions for respiratory illness. Medical costs linked with pollen exceed $3 billion every year, the CDC said.
Symptoms of seasonal allergies, or hay fever, include sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, itchy nose or eyes, and swelling around the eyes.
Tree pollen causes most springtime allergies through June. Trees that produce the most pollen include beech, cottonwood, maple, oak, poplar, mulberry and willow.
Cleveland was among the five cities with the most days of high or very high tree pollen concentration, in the 2023 Asthma and Allergy Foundation’s rankings.
In late spring and summer, grasses cause the most misery for allergy sufferers.
Weeds also create pollen, but mostly in the fall. The worst weed, ragweed, peaks in mid-September in most parts of the United States.
Here are ways to limit exposure to pollen and make allergy season more bearable. Information was contributed by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, CDC and Mayo Clinic.
Stay indoors on dry, windy days.
Avoid lawn mowing, weed pulling and other gardening chores that stir up allergens.
Shower and wash your hair at night to remove pollen from your skin and hair.
Take off your shoes when entering your home.
Wear sunglasses to keep pollen out of your eyes.
Check pollen forecasts in local media or online. The Academy of Medicine of Cleveland and Northern Ohio Pollen Line offers forecasts five days a week. Call the hotline at (216) 520-1050.
If high pollen counts are forecasted, start taking allergy medications before your symptoms start.
Close doors and windows at night.
Use air conditioning in your house and car. Keep indoor air dry with a dehumidifier.
Use a portable high-efficiency particulate air filter in your bedroom.
Vacuum carpets and furniture weekly with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter.
Try over-the-counter medication such as antihistamines, corticosteroid nasal sprays or oral decongestants.
Rinse your nasal passages with saline solution to clear mucus and allergens from your nose.
Julie Washington covers healthcare for cleveland.com. Read previous stories at this link. Also:
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