Global warming brings on more pollen

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - 8:31am

With global warming, temperature extremes are becoming a norm -- and that's bad news for allergy sufferers.

In a single century, our planet went from one of the coldest decades since the last ice age to one of the hottest. That hasn't happened in the last 11,300 years, according to a recent study on global temperatures published in the journal Science.

By 2100, temperatures will rise "well above anything we've ever seen in the last 11,000 years," said study co-author Shaun Marcott.

At the same time, pollen counts are expected to skyrocket. If you're already starting to sniff with the arrival of spring, realize that this year will probably be a lot more mild than in the future.

Research presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in November suggests that pollen counts are going to get a lot worse in the next 30 years. Dr. Leonard Bielory showed predictions that pollen counts will more than double by 2040.

Bielory is part of an ongoing study at Rutgers University modeling what climate change has in store for pollen. The study analyzes various allergenic plants being grown in climate chambers modeling future conditions, and researchers are incorporating factors including weather patterns and changes in precipitation and temperature.

Pollen counts averaged 8,455 in the year 2000, and by 2040 they are expected to reach 21,735, according to this model. And the allergy season will begin earlier each year, too.

A conference presentation does not come with the same level of scrutiny as publication in a peer-reviewed journal. But the findings make sense to Dr. Clifford Bassett, a New York allergist and ACAAI fellow who was not involved in this particular study.

"As you increase CO2 (carbon dioxide), it tells the allergenic plants to produce more pollen to the tune of three to four times more, and the pollen itself, we think, may actually be more potent," Bassett said.

Many of us have already spent springs feeling like a total wreck, between the sneezing, itchy eyes and sinus headaches, no matter which antihistamine we take. How will we survive longer, stronger allergy seasons and a pollen apocalypse?

Bassett says immunotherapy -- in other words, allergy shots -- are the only effective means to prevent these symptoms. When pollen counts are at their highest, people who have received the injections may still need some antihistamine medications. But generally they have minimal to no allergy unpleasantness.

The shots are given over a period of three to five years. An allergist tests to see which plants you are allergic to, and then gives injections of tiny doses of those offending substances so that you become desensitized.

Other allergy symptom prevention tips from Bassett include:

-- Wash your hair at night after you've been outside

-- Take antihistamines before the allergy season begins

-- Try to avoid exercising outdoors when the pollen count is high

-- Don't line-dry your clothes when there's a lot of pollen in the air

Consult an allergist to get a treatment plan that's best suited for you.

-- CNN's Ben Brumfield contributed to this report

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