Are allergies getting worse? It’s not just in your head

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Do you struggle from seasonal pollen allergies?

From sneezing and stuffy nose to itchy eyes and asthma, for those that suffer from pollen allergies it can be a challenging time. But, it only lasts a quick season, right?

Super Doppler 10: Pollen season blows in during March and April

According to experts, as temperatures rise, it looks like pollen seasons are going to get progressively worse. And, in the southern region of the United States, areas like Hampton Roads will feel the impact.

At the Digital Desk, a local expert joined Digital Host Sarah Goode to discuss what we can expect in Hampton Roads, the climate impact and how to get some relief. Watch the conversation in the video player on this page.

Jim Blando, an associate professor and chair in the School of Community and Environmental Health at Old Dominion University, has been studying the impact of climate change on pollen and allergies amongst other topics.

Blando has spent years working in industrial hygiene and air quality. The field is wide-ranging, covering the effects of allergy seasons, soot, wildfires and other contaminants. It is important work because these issues can impact public health significantly.

“Everyone has to breathe and your stuck with breathing the air quality that’s around you,” Blando said.

Currently, North Carolina and Virginia are reporting very high levels of pollen.

In March, Virginia Beach joined the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s, or AAFA, list for the most challenging cities to manage seasonal pollen allergies in the number two spot. The 2024 Allergy Capitals™ report takes a look at the tree, grass and weed pollen scores, over-the-counter allergy medicine use and availability of board-certified allergists/immunologists. Read the full report here.

Virginia Beach ranked #2 on list of most challenging cities for allergies

Nearby cities of Richmond, Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina also joined the worst allergy cities list.

According to the CDC, “Climate change will potentially lead to both higher pollen concentrations and longer pollen seasons, causing more people to suffer more health effects from pollen and other allergens.”

Blando said the impact of climate change and higher temperatures have been studied and documented by both academics and scientists alike. There are three major changes at play.

First, Blando said the length of allergy season is increasing, and it also tends to occur earlier.

Second, Studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that because of the changing climate, a lot of plants that produce pollen for example, are producing more of it.

Third, other studies also suggest the pollen is more allergenic.

These three factors lead to a challenging environment.

“Not only is the allergy season increasing in length, it’s happening earlier, we’re getting more pollen, and some of those pollens may tend to be more allergenic,” Blando said.

Seasons are not as consistent with the changing climate, allowing for intense weather periods.

Blando said intense wet periods can lead to standing water where mold can grow, leading to spores that can be problematic for some people with allergies.

“The combination of these factors combined with what we are seeing from climate change in fact may be indicative of some of these anecdotal observations that people are having,” Blando said. “Where they say, ‘Boy it seems like the allergy seasons are worse that I remember’. And, I think there’s scientific evidence to support that”.

Other factors at play that can worsen allergies include genetic factors, diet, and preexisting health conditions.

“For example, for someone who has asthma, certainly their asthma can be aggravated by exposure to allergens and so on,” Blando said.

Host factors can make some people more susceptible more than others.

Blando offered several suggestions for people to find some relief not only during allergy season but all year-long.

  • Wear a mask if you are able during lawn chores like mowing the lawn or raking leaves.

  • To protect others around you, wear a mask to catch droplets if you have a runny nose, cough or are sneezing due to allergies. It’s possible to pass other particles along.

  • Use HEPA air purifiers and HEPA air filters in your home.

  • Consult with immunologists and medical providers for treatment and care.

Jim Blando shares more on climate change, pollen, allergens, wildfires and ways to find relief in the Digital Desk LIVE. Watch in the video player on this page.

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