September 30, 2022 by KiKi Bochi
Allergy Seasons Expected to Get Longer, Stronger — with Higher Pollen Counts
If you thought allergy seasons are getting longer and more intense, you’re probably right, according to a major new study getting a lot of attention.
Overall pollen production may climb by nearly 40 percent in the U.S. Southeast by the end of the century, fueled in large part by climate change, according to the study published in the journal Nature Communications.
“As atmospheric scientists, we study how the atmosphere and climate affect trees and plants,” explain the study’s authors. “While most studies focus on pollen overall, we zoomed in on more than a dozen different types of grasses and trees and how their pollen will affect regions across the U.S. in different ways.”
The Southeast could be more severely affected than other parts of the U.S. because much of the region’s pollen comes from oak, pine, cypress and other tree species. Moreover, warmer weather exasperates allergy seasons. Rising global temperatures and surging carbon dioxide emissions will be the biggest culprits over the decades, the researchers said.
If you are prone to seasonal allergies, and you are concerned about worsening symptoms, it’s important to consult with your doctor, says Javier A. Hiriart, M.D., a pediatrician and internal medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care, Family Medicine Center at West Kendall Baptist Hospital.
Many patients with seasonal allergies have been concerned enough to be tested for COVID-19 — since some symptoms of allergies and COVID overlap, explains Dr. Hiriart. More patients fall into the category of experiencing strong seasonal allergies for the first time, and then fearing that they have contracted COVID, he adds.
Recognizing If You Have Allergies
The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely put allergy symptoms in a new light. Symptoms shared by both allergies and COVID include cough, headaches, tiredness, sore throat, sneezing, itchy or watery eyes and a runny or stuffy nose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “But there are some key differences between the two,” the CDC states. “For example, COVID-19 can cause fever, which is not a common symptom of seasonal allergies.” Moreover, losing the sense of taste or smell are symptomatic of COVID – but not allergies.
“Now, many people tend to be worried that these symptoms could be COVID, so they turn to us to determine if it’s allergies or COVID,” said Dr. Hiriart.
Common Causes of Allergies
Pollen is one of the most common triggers of seasonal allergies. In South Florida, where climate doesn’t change as much over the seasons, plants release tiny pollen grains to fertilize other plants of the same species. Most of the pollens that cause allergic reactions come from trees, weeds and grasses. These plants make small, light and dry pollen grains that travel by the wind.
Year-round dust mites — microscopic insect-like pests that generate common household allergens — can live in bedding, mattresses, upholstered furniture, carpets or curtains in your home.
Spring allergies are linked to “mango season” in South Florida, says Dr. Hiriart. When mango trees are in bloom, people who are allergic to its pollen could feel a range of symptoms, from mild sinus issues to skin rashes to a severe anaphylactic reaction.
Medical tests to determine if you have an allergy may include a skin test, patch test or blood test. Usually, no one test alone can diagnose an allergy. Test results are just one of many tools available to assist your doctor in making a diagnosis. A physical exam will pay close attention to your ears, eyes, nose, throat, chest and skin. Further testing may include a lung function test to detect how well you exhale air from your lungs. You may also need an X-ray of your lungs or sinuses if allergies are severe or persist.
“We don’t get as much of the true seasonality as you see in other climates, but we still see some worsening of seasonal allergies,” explains Dr. Hiriart. “I love mangoes. I’m not allergic to them but I know a lot of patients will say they can’t stand those few weeks when mango trees are flowering. We also have mold combined with humidity, which is worse here compared to places with drier climates. And more people may be more sensitive here to mold.”
When Allergies Turn Serious
Crisvell Estevez, MSN, FNP-BC, a family nurse practitioner with Baptist Health Urgent Care Express, says that most people who suffer from allergies can manage their symptoms with over-the-counter antihistamines or prescription steroids. Allergy immunotherapy can also be used to prevent allergic symptoms, she says.
For some people, however, a severe allergic reaction can be triggered by certain foods and drugs, latex or even a bee sting. “This can be deadly if not treated immediately, as the patient can go into anaphylactic shock if Epinephrine isn’t administered quickly,” says Ms. Estevez. Don’t wait to seek care hoping that the symptoms will go away, she cautions. “With severe allergic reactions, symptoms can worsen quickly and if that happens, you want to be in an Urgent Care Center or Emergency Department where you can get the treatment you need.”
Simple Steps for Preventing Allergies
Ms. Estevez says that increased mask wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic may also help decrease allergic symptoms, due to decreased inhalation of pollen particles. And, she adds, it’s important to avoid triggers. “If you are allergic to pollen, stay indoors with windows and doors closed when pollen counts are high,” she advises. “Replace your air filters periodically and, if you are allergic to dust mites, vacuum and wash your bedding often. If food allergies are a concern, track your meals when symptoms arise as this may help you identify your allergic triggers.”
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