Longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures make more pollen

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Itchy eyes. Nasal congestion. Sneezing. If these symptoms pop up for you during spring, summer and fall, you’re among the estimated one in four Americans who experience seasonal allergies. Many people believe their allergies are getting worse every year, with more irritation over a longer period of time, and it’s not just their imagination.

Scientists are seeing higher pollen concentrations and lengthier pollen seasons due to shifts in weather and temperature patterns. With the earlier start to the warm season and higher average daily temperatures, plants pollinate early and seasonal allergens such as tree pollen, mold and other spores grow faster as the plants get larger. Higher wind intensity blows pollens and allergens across longer distances, bringing new allergens to the community.

All that pollen can trigger allergic reactions in the nose and eyes when the immune system mistakes the pollen as a threat and acts in your defense. Nasal allergies, or allergic rhinitis, have symptoms including sneezing, running nose and congestion. Red, watery or itchy eyes can be a symptom of allergic conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the lining of the eye.

“Allergies can be passed along genetically or through environmental exposure, and they can develop as you age,” said Bethany Anders, CRNP, a family medicine provider with Hokes Bluff Family Medicine. “When your immune system detects an allergen such as pollen, the release of histamines causes inflammation and more mucus production, generating those familiar allergy symptoms. Higher pollen concentrations and longer pollen seasons are aggravating allergies for many people.”

Over-the-counter antihistamine and steroid medications are widely used to relieve allergy symptoms. Antihistamines are available as nasal sprays, eye drops and oral pills. Steroids come as nasal sprays.

Take steps to minimize your exposure to pollen by monitoring pollen levels and minimizing your time outdoors when counts are high. If you do need to be outdoors, remove the pollen when you come inside by changing clothes and taking a shower to rinse off your hair and skin. Use the air conditioner and HEPA filters to reduce pollen indoors.

When seasonal allergies impact your quality of life, talk to your provider about symptom relief medications or treatments that can help.

Submitted by Will Mackey, Gadsden Regional Medical Center.

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