American allergy sufferers have come to know what to expect throughout the year – oak in spring; grass over the late spring and early summer months; ragweed in late summer through autumn; cedar in fall through winter – as their fluctuating symptoms follow the changing of the seasons.
Recent years, however, have seen significant shifts in allergy seasons, with some occurring earlier in the year and others lasting longer than normal. With global pollen counts also on the rise, these changes paint a slightly different picture for allergy sufferers around the country. Here’s what you need to know as you look ahead to the rest of 2018.
Earlier spring allergies
For several years, spring allergies have been occurring earlier. That means plants and trees, many of which bud when temperatures get warm enough, flowering weeks ahead of schedule and releasing more pollen into the air.
Punxsutawney Phil may have recently called for six more weeks of winter, but that will not likely apply to spring allergies in 2018. In Nevada, pollen monitors have already registered unseasonably high counts, signaling an early start to this spring allergy season. A February report in New Orleans highlighted a high number of hospitalizations due to allergies, while doctors in Orlando believe their city could be entering “one of the worst allergy seasons ever.”
Longer weed pollination seasons
Warmer temperatures don’t just mean earlier springs – they also mean milder autumns, which lead to longer pollination seasons for ragweed and other weeds.
Ragweed is an allergenic plant that pollinates in tropical and subtropical climates, typically the season lasts from August through October. It is one of the most common causes of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) for millions of Americans in the autumn months. Ragweed thrives in warmer temperatures and is dispersed by the wind, with each plant capable of producing up to one billion pollen grains. Its pollen has been found as far as 400 miles out to sea and 2 miles up in the atmosphere.
With longer autumns come longer ragweed seasons. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the EPA found a dramatic increase in ragweed season across many parts of the United States and Canada, with select areas experiencing almost a month more of ragweed season.
Changes in climate have not only affected when ragweed season occurs; they may also be extending where it occurs. In Europe, the far-reaching weed is expected to become more prevalent in new geographical regions that are becoming more climatically hospitable to it. Such a development would impact millions of people in countries like Denmark, France, Germany and Russia who are not currently exposed to it.
Higher year-round pollen counts
Underlying these two seasonal shifts is an expectation in the scientific community that year-round pollen counts will only continue to rise in the coming decades. A 2012 report by the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology found that pollen counts are expected to more than double by 2040.
“In the year 2000, pollen counts averaged 8,455. Fast forward to 2040, and these counts are anticipated to reach 21,735. Researchers predict counts in 20-year increments up to the year 2100 and are incorporating various climatic factors in their models including weather patterns, changes in precipitation and temperature.”
For allergy sufferers with allergic asthma, higher pollen counts inevitably leads to increased risk and severity of asthma attacks, along with worsened symptoms on a week-to-week basis.
What can you do to prepare?
With more intense allergy seasons on the future forecast, people with airborne allergies will benefit from preparing as best they can. The first step is knowing what their sensitivities are, ideally by undergoing an allergy test. By doing so, you will understand the times of year that you’re most at risk and be able to plan their avoidance accordingly.
There’s also a number of allergy treatment options you can explore, from over-the-counter medications to allergen immunotherapy. While the former can help you combat symptoms on a daily basis, the latter offers a long-term solution – one which may be all the more necessary given the changes in the air.