Keeping Bay Area Pollen Season at Bay
Are your seasonal allergies getting worse? You’re not alone.
If it feels like your allergy-induced runny nose and red-rimmed eyes are getting worse each year — and lasting longer — you're not imagining things.
The Bay Area experiences three pollen spikes throughout the year. Several varieties of local bushes and trees release pollen beginning in January. Pollen from annual grasses increases in the spring. Beginning in June there is a surge in summer weed pollen. Seasonal rain can also cause both trees and grasses to pollinate at the same time, making what’s good for our water supply a pain in the ear, nose and throat for allergy sufferers.
“Pollen seasons like one we experienced in 2019 are particularly bad because it rained so heavily and abruptly stopped, and everything pollinated,” said Brown & Toland physician Dr. Michelle Huffaker, of the Allergy and Asthma Medical Group of the Bay Area. “We experienced an overlap between trees and grasses, with really high burdens of pollen each. That was particularly bad for folks' symptoms.”
Here are some tips for coping with summer allergies in the Bay Area.
Alter your lifestyle
To keep your summer allergies in check, there are a few easy tweaks you can make to your daily life:
- Stay inside in the morning when pollen counts are often at their highest
- Check the local pollen counts
- Put a HEPA filter in the bedroom
- Avoid exposure to tobacco, which can exacerbate allergy symptoms
- Wear an N95 mask while doing yard work or spending an extended amount of time outside
- Keep pets outside
Which over-the-counter medications are best for which allergy symptoms?
- Nasal congestion, runny nose, and eye symptoms can often be controlled with nasal corticosteroids such as Flonase, Nasonex, or Nasacort.
- Sneezing and eye itching can be controlled with newer oral antihistamines, like loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec), and fexofenadine (Allegra) or levocetirizine (Xyzal).
- Itchy eyes can be soothed with ketotifen eye drops (Zaditor).
Sudafed may help as a decongestant but is generally limited by adverse effects. People who have high blood pressure or enlarged prostate shouldn’t take it at all. Also, avoid Sudafed if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Is climate change making your allergies worse?
Here’s the long-term outlook: Pollen season is starting earlier and lasting longer. That alone could spell trouble for allergy sufferers. But in addition, plants are producing more pollen, so not only is the season lengthening, it’s also more severe.
One reason for this unwelcome shift is that climate change is pushing temperatures higher, according to researcher Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research service.
Additionally, a 2014 study published in the journal PLOS One suggested that elevated levels of carbon dioxide can increase the amount of pollen some plants produce, by as much as 50 percent per flower.
The study’s investigators estimated that grass pollen, the scourge of many Bay Area allergy suffers, will increase by up to 200 percent.
“We are concerned about the future; if we consistently see temperature changes, that [is] going to mean enormous consequences in terms of allergy season and for people’s health,” Ziska said.
If your season allergy symptoms persist or seem worse than usual, be sure to schedule an appointment to discuss with your doctor.
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