A new study published in Nature Communications and conducted by the University of Michigan found that pollen allergy season could start up to 40 days earlier and last 19 days longer by the year 2100 due to climate change. Temperature and rain changes alone would increase annual United States pollen emissions by up to 40 percent, according to the study’s climate scientists, and factoring in carbon-dioxide emissions could cause a 250 percent increase in annual pollen emissions.
PhD candidate and lead author Yingxiao Zhang told NBC News that pollen changes will differ depending on the types of plants and where a person lives. But this study projects the timing of different plant pollens (tree pollens in the spring, grass pollens in the summer, and weed pollens in the fall) could create new overlap, leading to higher pollen concentrations.
Zhang reiterated that rising temperature, precipitation, and the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere can impact plants’ pollen emission. Generally speaking, CO2 acts like a fertilizer for plants, making them grow faster or bigger. And “the CO2 fertilization effect can mean the plant makes more pollen,” Perry E Sheffield, MD, MPH, Mount Sinai associate professor of environmental medicine and public health, explains to POPSUGAR.
Dr. Sheffield says information from this study complements trends from past studies showing pollen seasons have been getting longer over the past few decades with more pollen and, in some cases, “more potent pollen,” she notes. Tania Mucci-Elliott, MD, an allergist at NYU Langone Health, told POPSUGAR last year that warmer temperatures “and above-average rainfall mean earlier tree budding and more pollen.”
The study published in Nature Communications specifically notes that longer and more intense pollen seasons are expected to exacerbate “pollen allergic rhinitis” (hay fever) and asthma. Dr. Sheffield echoes that sentiment, stressing the importance of either avoiding pollen or taking medication to help control your symptoms.
Allergist Tips For Dealing With a Longer Allergy Season
Common pollen allergy symptoms include runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, watery and itchy eyes, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, sore throat, and itchy rashes, according to Lakiea Wright, MD, MPH, board-certified allergist and associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Purvi Parikh, MD, national spokesperson for the Allergy & Asthma Network, who both spoke to POPSUGAR. Here are their tips to help mitigate your symptoms during a prolonged allergy season, whether you are allergic to pollen or have asthma that’s triggered by pollen.
- Keep track of pollen counts. Try to minimize time outdoors when pollen counts are high, especially the early hours of the morning, when both doctors say pollen counts are highest.
- Keep your windows closed in the car and at home to avoid letting in pollen.
- Remove outdoor clothing (pollen can stick to it!) once you’re indoors.
- Take a shower to remove pollen from your body, as it can stick to your hair and eyelashes, too.
- Filtered masks may help to reduce exposure to small particles like pollens.
- If you need medication, Dr. Parikh, from Allergy & Asthma Network, says over-the-counter antihistamine or Flonase may help, but some people may require prescriptions. She suggests you start your preventative or “controller” medications earlier in the season.
Dr. Wright notes that it’s important for people with asthma to talk to their doctor to ensure they’re on the appropriate medication, especially if they’re triggered by pollen. Additionally, she says some people with seasonal allergies are allergic to more than one allergen, so consider getting tested to identify those allergens and come up with a treatment plan.