Global warming may bring pollen onslaught

Global warming may bring pollen onslaught

POSTED: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - 11:00am

UPDATED: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - 11:04am

Climate change, we've all heard, is problematic. Major shifts in climate patterns in the future may affect the spread of disease, devastate coastal areas and cause the extinction of some of our beloved species of wildlife.

But if Superstorm Sandy didn't bring climate change concerns home for you, here's something else that might: Allergy mayhem.

New research presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) conference last week 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.

I've already spent many springs of my life feeling like a total wreck, between the sneezing, itchy eyes and sinus headaches, no matter which antihistamine I'm taking. How will we survive with longer, stronger allergy seasons and a pollen apocalypse?

Bassett tells me that 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. 

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