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Spring Allergies Strike Early This Year

Experts Say Tree Pollen Season May Be Long and Painful

Pollen Seasons Getting Longer, More Severe

Researchers say the early allergy season isn’t a fluke. It may be part of a larger trend that’s being shaped by climate change.

A 2010 study that looked at 26 years’ worth of pollen counts for five allergens in northern Italy showed that as temperatures increased, pollen seasons stretched in that region by more than two weeks. Pollen counts were higher, too. Scientists saw about 25% more pollen in 2007 than they did in 1981. And there was evidence that more people were becoming sensitive to those allergens over time. It’s happening in this country, too.

“We’re seeing a very consistent change in how early plants flower in the spring,” says Lewis Ziska, PhD, a research plant physiologist at the USDA’s Crop Systems and Global Change Laboratory in Beltsville, Md.

What’s more, the warmer temperatures are affecting all plants, not just trees.

Ziska has been tracking ragweed, a plant that is usually a problem in the fall. In a study published last year, he found that ragweed seasons were getting longer in the U.S. and Canada, with northern regions seeing the biggest increases. In Minneapolis, for example, the ragweed season was about 16 days longer in 2009 than it was in 1995. In Saskatoon, Canada, it was nearly a month longer in 2009 than in 1995.

“We really need to kind of sit back, take notice of it, and say, ‘This is something we need to pay attention to,’” Ziska says.

Advice for Allergy Sufferers

When possible, the best strategy is to try to avoid the pollen. That means staying indoors.

If you have to be outdoors, Bensch says it’s smart to use a mask to protect your airway.

Tight-fitting glasses can help keep the pollen out of your eyes.

When inside, keep your doors and windows shut. Turning on the air conditioning can help keep the air clean, Bensch says.

“Central air systems work great to filter indoor air, but you’ve got to change the filters. Not enough people change their filters regularly enough,” he says.

A shower before bed will wash pollen out of your hair and keep it off your pillow. That may make it easier to get a good night’s sleep.

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