How long is pollen season?
It turns out itchy eyes and a constant runny nose aren’t just Spring things. Pollen season is longer now than ever before — but sinus and allergy sufferers in the United States may have already noticed that. With a variety of pollen in the air, it’s getting harder to live through a season without feeling an onslaught of symptoms.
Pollen is often characterized by its fine, powdery, yellow-toned appearance and its presence in plants including trees, grasses, and weeds. Though pollen allergies are common — affecting up to 30% of the world’s population — its presence is bittersweet, as pollination is vital to the sustained production of the world’s crops, natural resources, and landscapes. In fact, almost 80% of the world’s crops require pollination.
So, what can sufferers do to better navigate the time of year when allergy symptoms are strongest?
When does pollen season start?
It’s important to understand that pollen, although often generalized as the culprit for incessant sneezing and itchy, stuffy noses, can come from many different sources. In an effort to be proactive about your particular symptoms, it’s helpful to pinpoint which particular pollen irritates your symptoms.
To better understand when pollen levels are highest, it’s important to note that most of the pollen that leads to allergic reactions comes from trees, grasses, and weeds. Pollen seasons in the U.S. according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) are as follow:
- Tree pollen: As often as January, through to May
- Grass pollen: April to June
- Weed pollen: August to November
Has allergy season gotten worse?
In short, yes. In recent years, climate change has been described by the World Health Organization as “the single biggest health threat facing humanity”. Evidence continues to build that explores the link between pollen concentrations and changes in temperature. In fact, from 1990 to 2018, a North American study quantified a 20-day increase in pollen season length, and a 21% increase in pollen concentrations.
Now, across the United States, people with an allergy to pollen can expect watery eyes, runny noses, and other allergy symptoms to hit earlier and last longer on average.
The bigger implication of climate change, though, is the effect at the global level. An extended allergy season isn’t just happening in the U.S. Pollen’s in the air — and on the rise — across multiple continents.
How do I know if I have a pollen allergy?
Pollen allergies can manifest in a variety of symptoms—respiratory symptoms among them. For many people, discomfort can often be located in the nasal area. When an allergen irritates the nose and causes inflammation in the nasal passages and sinuses, this can be referred to as allergic rhinitis or hay fever.
Typical pollen allergy symptoms can include:
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose
- Intensified symptoms for asthma sufferers
Symptoms can also include itchy and watery eyes, or even difficulty breathing as a result of exacerbated asthma symptoms, leading to coughing and wheezing.
Air pollution has also been directly linked to the exacerbation of respiratory disease, specifically through the exposure of particulate matter air pollution, including particles like dust and pollen.
Our changing climate has triggered a number of environmental concerns, including the increase of wildfire activity over the last few decades. This too is important to note; population exposure to polluted air is likely to increase, as high pollution events like these can trigger and exacerbate allergy symptoms.
What is the best treatment for a pollen allergy?
Managing pollen allergies starts with being aware of triggers, actively minimizing contact with them, and incorporating habits that alleviate symptoms as early as possible.
Preventing pollen allergy symptoms starts with healthy habits. Here are a few ways to get ahead of them:
- Check local pollen counts in your area ahead of committing to activities outside the home.
- Keep windows and doors closed, particularly on peak pollen days.
- Run the air conditioner on hot spring and summer days instead of opening a window.
- Change your home air filters regularly using allergy and asthma-approved or HEPA certified air filters.
- Change your clothes and take a shower after being outdoors.
- Give your pets a quick wipe-down after being outdoors.
- Take an oral antihistamine before the day starts.
As for the nasal symptoms often present with pollen allergies, there are treatments sufferers can administer at home via nasal spray, nasal rinse bottle — and for sufferers looking for deep nasal delivery — nasal nebulizer:
- Saline solution to cleanse airborne particles out of nasal passages.
- Over-the-counter nasal corticosteroids like fluticasone, budesonide, and triamcinolone.
- Custom compounded nasal medication from your local compounding pharmacy.
- Nasal-safe moisturizer to help soothe dryness from as a result of symptoms, frequent nose blowing, or medications.
Mild allergy sufferers may find it easier to begin with at-home practices and remedies, while chronic sufferers may want to consider consulting their general physician, local compounding pharmacist, or a specialist healthcare provider like an allergist.