Do you live in one of the most allergic places in the country? (Photo: Getty Images)
Grab that box of tissues! According to the latest report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one in every three Americans — which comes out to roughly 109 million people — are living in an area with high ragweed pollen counts, along with high levels of ozone smog pollution, making life very unpleasant for the millions of allergy and asthma sufferers.
The NRDC, an international nonprofit environmental organization, has listed the top cities that have fallen under this danger zone, making those with respiratory issues cough, sneeze and wheeze more than ever.
The cities are as follows:
1. Richmond, VA
2. Memphis, TN
3. Oklahoma City, OK
4. Philadelphia, PA
5. Chattanooga, TN
6. Chicago, IL
7. Detroit, MI
8. New Haven, CT
9. Allentown, PA
10. Atlanta, GA
11. Pittsburgh, PA
12. Louisville, IL
13. Springfield, MA
14. Milwaukee, WI
15. Dayton, OH
This organization says that 50 million Americans deal with allergic rhinitis, which is often referred to as hay fever, and can be seasonal or perennial (year-round). Hay fever causes symptoms such as sneezing, stuffy nose, runny nose, watery eyes and itching of the nose, eyes or the roof of the mouth, says the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. As for asthma sufferers, the number has increased from 20 million back in 2000 to 26 million, as of 2010.
Along with alerting Americans about the most pollen and pollutant regions, the NRDC is also urging policymakers to establish guidelines in order to improve our air pollution. Given the title of their report — “Sneezing and Wheezing: How Climate Change Could Increase Ragweed Allergies, Air Pollution and Asthma” — they’ve stated that reducing carbon pollution from power plants, which contributes to the warming of our planet, will also decrease the harmful pollutants floating around in the air.
“Americans deserve to breathe clean air, but today millions of us are sneezing and wheezing from allergies and asthma worsened by climate change-fueled ragweed pollen and ozone smog pollution,” Juan Declet-Barreto, the lead author of the NRDC report, said in a formal press release. “This double-whammy health threat will only intensify, and affect more people, if we don’t take steps to reduce climate change now. For our health and future, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) should strengthen the health standard for ozone pollution and set strong limits on power plant carbon pollution.”
And then there’s the pollen vortex, which is more than just a buzzword. “It does exist — last year it was pretty bad and it promises to be pretty bad this year,” Dr. Joel Blass, Medical Director at the Workmen’s Circle MultiCare Center in the Bronx, tells Yahoo Health. He explains that it can be defined as a “sudden burst of pollen from the water that accumulated during the winter months. But it’s definitely not a medical term!”
In fact, Blass — an allergy sufferer himself — saw a tremendous increase in patient complaints just over the last 24 hours. “It was like somebody turned on a light switch and suddenly their allergies acted up,” he says. “But it’s not necessarily the cherry blossoms or the flower pollen that’s causing the issue — it’s more the grass and the trees, which release pollen. We’re in that season right now and it will be that way for the next couple of weeks or so.”
But there’s no need to sniff and suffer through the beautiful spring weather. “If you treat hay fever symptomatically and as long as the symptoms are relatively mild, it runs its course for a few weeks at the most,” states Blass. He offers these strategies that can curb your sneezing and wheezing and help you breathe easier:
1. Keep windows closed and put on the fan or air conditioner inside your home. “It’s very important to change the filters, which typically harbor a lot of pollen.”
2. Clean your home since dust can worsen during allergy season. “This happens because dust mites thrive during more humid conditions,” explains Blass. “Even better, you may want to have somebody else clean your home while you leave.”
3. Get a mattress cover—“the ones made from vinyl are dust proof”—and a dehumidifier, which helps to remove the humidity, which creates and unfriendly environment for the dust mice.
4. Try over-the-counter antihistamines. Blass has advised many people to take Flonase Nasal Spray for relief. “And they say it’s been the first time in years they can actually breathe through their nose.”