Some studies indicate that pollen season in North America has become longer and worse than some previous years.

Your immune system’s reaction to a foreign substance, such as pollen or a specific food, causes an allergy. The immune system produces substances called antibodies, but with allergies, the immune system makes antibodies that identify a specific allergen as harmful, even though, in itself, it isn’t. Coming into contact with an allergen can prompt your immune system to react via inflamed skin, sinuses, airways or digestive system. Allergies’ severity varies among individuals and can range from a minor irritation to anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening emergency. Although most allergies can’t be cured, treatments can help alleviate allergy symptoms.

“May is Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month,” said Luz Fonacier, MD, an allergist and immunologist at NYU Langone Hospital in Mineola, NY and president of the American College of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. “It’s a perfect time to examine why you may be suffering more with your allergies, and what you might be able to do about it.”

A recent study that researched pollen counts from 60 North American stations between 1990 and 2018 suggested that the pollen seasons for plants such as trees, weeds and grasses indicated a 20-day increase in the length of the season and a 21% increase in pollen concentration across the continent.

Several variables may have contributed to this perceived expansion. For example, the growing season of plants is longer and begins earlier, so the length of time for pollen in the air has increased. It has also been suggested that the amount of pollen produced by each plant is greater. Additionally, according to the study, the pollen that is produced is more likely to trigger an allergic reaction with fewer grains of pollen in the air.

Fonacier said that the best way to deal with pollen season is to “get ahead of it.” She said, “If you know it’s likely that your allergy symptoms will arrive earlier in the spring or fall season, start taking your medications sooner. If you begin your medications two to three weeks before your symptoms begin in earnest, chances are your suffering will be lessened.”

Tree pollens are higher in the spring while grasses’ pollen is at its height in summer and weeds’ pollen peaks in the fall. These seasonal variations may differ depending on weather conditions and where you live. To reduce the effects of pollen allergies, keep windows closed during the pollen season, particularly during the day. Use air conditioning when possible.

Learn which pollens affect your allergies and monitor pollen counts. During spring and summer’s tree and grass pollen seasons, levels are highest in the evening. In late summer and early fall, levels are highest in the morning. After working or playing outdoors, take a shower, wash your hair and change your clothes. And wear sunglasses and a hat outdoors to keep pollen out of your eyes and hair.

If over-the-counter medications are inadequate to control your allergy symptoms, consult your provider for helpful information or recommendation on symptom control solutions.

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