By Joan Raymond
It's not just here in the US, Britain started off with a milder than average winter, when cherry blossoms were blooming at Christmas.
Spring is still around the corner, but the problem for many of the 40 million Americans who suffer seasonal allergies is that Mother Nature, which bestowed an unusually mild winter on most of the U.S., is giving them a big punch in their already drippy little noses. Allergy season seems to be starting earlier this year -- and it’s going to be lasting longer.
“What we’re hearing, at least anecdotally, is patients saying their allergies are more severe, symptoms begin a few weeks earlier than usual, and bother them for longer periods of time,” says allergist Dr. Thanai Pongdee, who practices at
the Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Fla., and sees patients not only from the southern region of the U.S., but also from the East Coast and parts of the Midwest. “It doesn’t seem to matter where they’re from.”
Some studies have already shown that milder temperatures are indeed creating a little bit of allergy hell for sufferers.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science last year showed a link between a longer ragweed season and warming temperatures. According to the researchers, in some areas, ragweed season is 13 to 27 days longer than in was in 1995, attributed mostly to a later onset of a first frost. In another study presented at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, researchers found that from 1981 to 2007 there was an increase in the duration of some pollen seasons due to an increase of average temperatures.
Allergy sufferers in Georgia are already rubbing their itchy eyes. “We’re getting patients in already who are having allergic type symptoms, and we think it’s a cold, but as high as the pollen levels have been on some days, it may well be from the pollen,” says allergist Dr. Andy Nish, of Gainesville, Ga. Since they’ve had such a mild winter – just like most of us – Nish expects a longer growing season, giving rise to larger amounts of pollen in the air, for a lengthier time.
That’s a problem, since those lucky folks who don’t usually experience allergy symptoms may be at increased risk due to these longer exposure times and heavier pollen loads, says the Mayo Clinic’s Pongdee.
Even in Cleveland, Ohio, known for its notoriously cold, long winters, this season’s mild temperatures have doctors gearing up for an earlier arrival of itchy-eyed patients. “I’m expecting allergies to be worse due to the unusual weather,” says allergist Dr. Samuel Friedlander, of University Hospitals Case Medical Center. “I had a patient report seeing a bee flying around this month, so perhaps even bee allergies may occur early.”
There’s no need to panic and buy a biohazard suit.
Doctors say the majority of patients can be helped with either over-the-counter or prescription medication, and some common-sense preventive measures like keeping windows closed when pollen counts are high. You can always check pollen counts at aaaai.org.