Healthier Together: Allergy season

It’s been a rough allergy season in Washington and across America, according to many doctors and allergy season observers.

For Healthier Together, KIRO 7′s Ranji Sinha examined the allergy season, which started early in some places and doesn’t appear to be letting up.

Spring allergies have hit hard across our region and America – with blooms, blossoms, and plant growth comes all the sniffles, sneezing, and coughs.

“I think most people would anecdotally agree that this feels like a pretty intense allergy season and it’s starting earlier to the point that it’s hard to say it’s a season,” says Dr. Nicole Saint Clair, Executive Medical Director of Regence BlueShield.

She added that there’s a root cause for rougher allergies.

“Some of it has to do with the changes that we’re experiencing in our environment and how they influence growth in pollens,” she said.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the Washington State Department of Health (WA DOH), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (US-HHS) have all cited data saying climate change is fueling longer and more severe allergy seasons.

The estimates compared to 30 years ago show that pollen season is starting 20 days earlier and lasting for approximately a month longer than usual. This is mainly because of increasing temperatures from climate change.

Dr. Saint Clair says this is a trend that’s not going away.

“I definitely think we need to prepare ourselves for some of this new normal as our climate is changing and we’re seeing more extreme weather as well as even just differences with fire patterns, rain I think we are seeing that allergy seasons have been more intense,” she said.

The National Phenology Network tracks springtime biological activity and said our region started early.

US-HHS cited data saying Washington is in a group of states that had the earliest start to spring on record this year. A snapshot for today from the Northwest Asthma and Allergy Center listed trees and weed pollen in the moderate stage; Pollen.com put Western Washington in the medium to medium-high range for pollen.

Dr. Saint Clair says indoors is where some prevention should start.

“Most of the time we’re going to be managing at home with a variety of home approaches and over-the-counter remedies,” she said.

She says setting up a room that you strive to make pollen-free is also a good move.

Tips for spring allergy management are listed on the WA DOH website – while some other tips from medical professionals include:

  • Clean the surfaces and floors in your home to remove dust and mold.
  • Get high-efficiency air filters that remove particles like pollen and mold in your HVAC systems.
  • Spend less time outdoors or wear a mask when pollen is expected to be high.
  • Some doctors recommend showering and maybe shedding clothes that you’ve worn outdoors once inside.

It’s clear that pollen could be a problem, and doctors do say that over-the-counter medications can help, but if you experience greater problems seek medical help.

Dr. Saint Clair says if allergies feel like a severe cold, that could be a sign of something bigger.

“If you’re having severe symptoms, I definitely think it’s worth talking to your doctor,” she said.

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