IOWA — If you are an environmental allergy sufferer, you may have noticed your allergies starting earlier in the year and lasting a little longer as well. If so, you’re not alone.
Those who suffer from allergies already know the drill when temperatures begin to warm in the spring: trees and plants begin to bloom and grow — producing pollen that triggers sneezing, coughing and itchy, watery eyes. “Pollens will come from a variety of trees that we have. We have a lot of maple trees in the metro so that’s a major one,” said Dr. Jennifer Petts, an allergist at the Iowa Clinic. “Grass, everybody’s lawn and lots of weeds. Ragweed is notorious in the Midwest.”
While bees and other insects work to pollinate many plants, those that cause allergies are pollinated by the wind. Because March and April tend to be the windiest months in Iowa, it makes this time of year especially troublesome for those with allergies.
The allergy season is getting longer, too. “First, we know that they are getting longer by up to about 20 days since 1990,” said Dr. Jacquelyn Gill, a professor at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute. “The second reason is that plants are just making more pollen. There’s just more pollen in the air, up to 20% more.”
So why is there more pollen in the air? As carbon dioxide concentrations continue to rise, the growing season gets longer and plants have more opportunities to produce pollen. That means as the the Earth continues to warm, our allergies will worsen.
That increase in pollen and increase in length of the season has led to Iowans struggling to keep their symptoms under control. “We’re actually seeing quite a few people coming in that their symptoms were really mild in nature. They were taking antihistamines and that was completely fine, things were well controlled, and then all of a sudden because they are being exposed to more and more things that they are allergic to, suddenly the medication isn’t working as well as it once was,” said Dr. Petts.
Dr. Gill said one thing you can do to combat your allergies to is to take on the climate change that is fueling it. “For people who experience these debilitating allergies, it’s incredibly uncomfortable, and anybody who experiences them knows it’s not a fun time. So that’s a good incentive for people to take action on climate change because we know that there are all these secondary benefits, not just to the planet but also to our own health,” said Dr. Gill.