North Texans are no strangers to allergies. In fact, Dallas regularly ranks high on the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s list of most challenging places to live with allergies. But if you feel like this allergy season is one of the worst yet, you’re not just imagining it.
A recent study found that pollen season increased by 20 days annually between 1990 and 2018, while pollen concentrations in North America increased 21 percent over the same time period. Researchers found that the pollen in the air was also more potent, and therefore more allergenic.
Climate change “is the dominant driver of changes in pollen season length and a significant contributor to increasing pollen concentrations,” the authors of the study wrote. “Our results indicate that human-caused climate change has already worsened North American pollen seasons, and climate-driven pollen trends are likely to further exacerbate respiratory health impacts in coming decades.”
In direct comparison, your allergies this year may seem worse than last year because of the precautions you may have taken to reduce your risk of contracting the coronavirus. Spending more time indoors, wearing masks outside and washing your hands frequently all help limit contact with airborne allergens. Also, with so many people beginning to work at home in the spring of 2020, fewer cars on the road also meant less air pollution being inhaled.
While the COVID-19 precautions taken in 2020 may have offered a temporary reprieve from the worsening allergy season, the overall trend is not encouraging.
What You Can Do
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re an allergy sufferer or know someone who is, so you may already know what your allergy triggers are — or the things you’re allergic to. Checking daily pollen counts and planning appropriately are some of the best first steps to limiting your exposure, especially if something you’re allergic to is particularly high that day or week.
For example, a particularly windy day with a high pollen count isn’t a great time to schedule a hike or an outdoor playdate, especially during morning hours when pollen counts tend to be the worst.
Other preventive steps recommended by the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) include keeping your windows closed during pollen season (both in your home and your car), showering after spending time outdoors, and wearing sunglasses and a hat to keep pollen out of your hair and eyes.
While you may not like to hear it, continuing to wear a mask outdoors during pollen season can also go a long way in limiting your exposure. Just like pathogens, such as the coronavirus, for allergens exposure is everything.
Getting a head start with your allergy medication also can help, says Dania Wierzbicki, M.D., an allergist/immunologist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas.
“I suggest people pick a day that’s easy to remember like Valentine’s Day and start early with an antihistamine and/or nasal steroid (Flonase, Nasacort, Rhinocort) because they are best at treating all of the symptoms of seasonal allergies,” she advised. “Starting this regimen two weeks before the start of allergy season is usually sufficient. It’s much easier to prevent bad reactions than getting on top of them once they’re already out of control.
You can also talk with your doctor to see if allergy immunotherapy, such as allergy shots, is a good option for you.
Another important thing to know is that you shouldn’t just give up on medication if it doesn’t solve things after 48 hours. Give it time.
“Many patients start a new medication like Flonase and give up after the weekend if it doesn’t work right away,” Wierzbicki says.
Regardless of the season or which allergen gets your nose to twitching, Wierzbicki says working with an allergist can help patients determine which course of treatment is best.
“In addition to seasonal allergies, people struggle with year-round allergies from things like mold, pet dander and dust mites, which are a big problem in North Texas because of the humidity,” she explains. “Many times the same medications for seasonal allergies are effective for these year-round allergies as well.
“It comes down to the quality of life really, whether a patient needs over-the-counter medications, prescriptions or immunotherapy treatment. It’s very rewarding to see a patient who is miserable come in and get treated, and then be able to go back to enjoying life.”