This may be a record-setting year for tree pollen output, but, yesterday, Jill Daly told Pittsburgh Post-Gazette readers and allergy sufferers that we are still not out of the woods. As tree pollens peak and then fall, grasses and weeds will soon follow:
“It’s been really bad the past couple of days,” said Deborah Gentile, allergy and immunology specialist with Pediatric Alliance, on Friday.
“The counts are higher than ever seen for tree pollen,” she said, adding tree pollen was measured at 4,000 pollen grains in one cubic meter of air. The last time counts were high, she said, was back in 2015, when that spring the count went up to 3,000.
Dr. Gentile is head of the National Allergy Bureau station in Pittsburgh, affiliated with Duquesne University and Pediatric Alliance. Levels of allergens from trees, weeds, grass and mold are regularly posted online.
On Friday, it reported a very high concentration of tree pollen (the top three species were oak, mulberry and sycamore), a moderate concentration of mold (various) and a low concentration of weed and grass allergens (mostly sedge family and all kinds of grass).
The trends we have been witnessing the last few years continue, says Dr. Gentile. Higher pollen (antigen) peaks and longer allergy seasons mean amplified respiratory system responses for those who are allergic:
This year, she said, we had a late start to the tree season because the weather was cold. The season is more potent and now overlaps with the grass season.
“When it got warm, everything bloomed at once,” she said. “The grass is now pollinating and the mold counts are high. If you’re allergic to them all, it’s a triple whammy.”
People with seasonal allergies usually have more than one trigger, she said. “Only about 20 percent of people are allergic to one thing.”
This year, the symptoms are more severe, she said.
“Their eyes are swelling shut; they’re extremely congested. It’s directly related to how high the pollen counts are.” Dr. Gentile said people should see a doctor if their symptoms are moderate to severe — interfering with sleeping, or with going to school or work.
Biologists have been saying that as concentrations of carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere (the global CO2 level recently passed 411 ppm — a mark never before seen by any member of the human species), plants will produce more pollen. If emissions of CO2 continue on the business-as-usual fossil fuel regimen we currently rely upon — and there is no sign that humanity is prepared to aggressively draw down on activities which pump one hundred million tons of tons of global warming pollution into the air every day — pollen counts will more than double by mid-century, according to new research:
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. The study, taking place at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., is ongoing to analyze various allergenic plants being grown in climate chambers mimicking future conditions.
Shamard Charles, M.D., says we are well on our way to more itchy, sneezy, and wheezy days ahead:
Warmer, wetter winters may be one reason why. Rising temperatures, changes in worldwide weather patterns and increasing airborne pollen levels for a longer period of time can even affect the healthy; for those with a family history of allergies, the result is a more intense allergic reaction, according to a recently released report by the academy.
“Some research has suggested that the warming trend that we have in our environment is causing the pollen seasons to start a little bit earlier, and extend a little bit longer,” said Dr. Stanley Fineman, former president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “Consequently, patients are suffering because they’re exposed to pollen, for longer periods of time.”
Millions of Americans are experiencing what allergist Dr. Clifford Bassett calls an “allergy explosion.”
“Climate change, globalization, air pollution, and over-sanitization of the environment in the early years of life are just a few of the causes that, taken together, have introduced new allergens into our environment causing needless suffering,” said Bassett…
Daly provides advice from the experts in how to get pollen off — and keep it off — your body:
1. Close windows and doors and use air conditioning when it’s warm. A HEPA filter on the air conditioner reduces the spread of allergens.
2. Wear sunglasses to protect the eyes.
3. Change clothes, shower and wash hair at end of the day.
4. Use saltwater rinse in the eyes and nose.
5. Wipe down pets’ fur, which collects pollen.