Why your allergy symptoms are getting worse

Image credits: Brittany Colette.

For those with allergies, life in the past may not have been fun but at least the pattern was predictable. Reach for the box of tissues, try not to rub your eyes — a period of suffering, and that’s that.

Those who suffered knew that allergies would arrive and leave at certain times of the year. But the allergy picture has changed. Doctors see a different pattern, and allergies stick around for more. To make matters even worse, symptoms have become more severe.

Climate woes

Massachusetts Eye and Ear, a member of Mass General Brigham and a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, took their Focus blog to analyze the problem. They highlight the connection between the environment (global warming in particular) and allergy symptoms. Increased temperatures and worsening air pollution are part of the story. Dr. Amanda Dilger, an instructor in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the Harvard Medical School, has been looking at climate change’s impact on health.

It’s not the first time this relationship has been highlighted.

Sir Andy Haines, professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, notes that climate change has a lot to do with health.

“Climate change has always been framed as an environmental issue and it’s always difficult to get traction on that but researchers have been conceptualizing it as a health issue and we hope people will start to take notice,” he stated.

Similarly, Dilger and scientists at the University of Utah are among those professionals connecting the dots between climate change and health problems.

The University of Utah site had an article about climate change and longer allergy seasons and posed the question, What’s climate change got to do with it? Their answer: Quite a lot. Some numbers in a nutshell: (1) Pollen seasons start 20 days earlier, (2) are 10 days longer, and (3) feature 21% more pollen than in 1990.

Led by William Anderegg of the university’s School of Biological Sciences, the research appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers applied statistical methods toward pollen trends in conjunction with climate models over the past three decades, underscoring the connection between climate heating and allergies.

These allergies are more than a nuisance. The University of Utah underscored how for some people allergies to pollen are tied to respiratory health problems, “with implications for viral infections, emergency room visits and even children’s school performance. More pollen, hanging around for a longer season, makes those impacts worse.”

So what can someone with allergies do to relieve their symptoms?

“Nasal sprays, topical eye drops, steroids and over-the-counter antihistamines are symptomatic medications that can alleviate swollen eyes, sneezing and congestion. If medications are ineffective, a specialist might suggest in-office allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy, which conditions the body so that its immune system responds less adversely to an allergen over time,” Focus wrote. If “significant structural issues” affect symptoms, surgery may be considered.

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