It’s not just your imagination, seasonal allergies are getting worse each year. They are getting worse outdoors as a result of climate change and increased carbon dioxide, which make for more pollen at unpredictable times. They are getting worse indoors because sealing off spaces to minimize energy loss has the side-effect of pollen and other irritants building up in the air with nowhere to go but up your nose.
Changing levels of carbon dioxide are stimulating the pollen season to start earlier and last longer. The different plants that cause allergies at different times are dropping more into the wind – trees and flowers in the spring, grasses in the summer, weeds in the fall, and mold whenever it gets wet, though many plants will spread pollen outside of their group’s assigned season. Some cedar trees, for example, can start their pollen production during the winter and elms might spread all year round. Here are a few new things you can try to keep the symptoms of seasonal allergies at bay.
Don’t use half measures
We spend almost half of our lives in our bedrooms. Ignoring ways to reduce allergy triggers overnight is leaving a lot of relief on the table. Even if your bedroom doesn’t appear to be exposed to the outdoors as much as the front entrance to your home, there are still a lot of benefits to be had from taking steps to remove pollen where you sleep.
Allergy triggers are usually invisible when they are causing problems. Scientists have been finding that extremely low amounts of irritants can trigger allergies and disrupt sleep. In allergic children, just one pollen grain per square meter increased sleep apnea and low blood oxygen events by about 20%.
Pollen isn’t the only issue, the dust mites that live everywhere in everyone’s homes cover dust particles with allergy triggers, which is why dust makes many of us sneeze. Dust mites don’t bite but they thrive in the conditions created by your sleeping body and have a nightly habit of filling your pillow and bed with allergy triggers. Whenever we move in our sleep we stir up a cloud of dust with fresh dust mite triggers into the air. Without proper precautions all the little invisible bits they leave behind can cause sleep disturbances.
What to do in the bedroom about seasonal allergies
- Don’t bring pollen in with your clothes. Take off jackets and other outer layers when you get home, and designate some indoor clothing that is never exposed to outdoor pollen. If possible, move dirty laundry storage far from your bed.
- Get the pollen off your body. Wash your face, hair, hands, and other exposed parts of your body with warm water and mild soap before you lay down.
- Make your bed inhospitable to non-humans. Change your bedding often and vacuum your mattress to reduce dust mite allergy triggers and consider dust mite-proof sheets if you often wake up congested.
- Inhale clean air. After taking steps to control allergy triggers on their way in, you can run an air purifier next to your bed to clear out any lingering and floating irritants.
Masks are available and acceptable
During most of 2020, 2021, and 2022, we were all getting extremely familiar with face masks in public places. There were already quite a few options for wearing masks that warm or protect, but during the Covid-19 pandemic demand exploded. Now there are many times the number of options available, and also many opportunities for scientists to study their impact.
One small study on a group of 50 people who had allergies and wore masks during the pandemic found a drastic impact. Reports of moderate to severe nose and eye symptoms dropped by about half among the mask-wearers. A mask doesn’t just filter out the pollen, when interacting with strangers people wearing masks were seen as more trustworthy during business negotiations as long as the mask was seen as a measure to protect other people.
What to do with a mask to protect from seasonal allergies
Wear a mask when outdoors, but remember it is constantly and efficiently collecting pollen and other allergens the whole time and will leave them behind wherever it is placed. When you get home, leave your mask by the door if you plan to reuse it or put it directly in the wash or trash.
Get ready for more pollen
Pollen usually starts in the early spring in the US and Canada. Florida and Texas have the lowest latitudes and can start to develop pollen early, and in some parts of Texas cedar trees can even trigger winter allergies. When trees “leaf out” or literally put out their leaves at the start of Spring, they also start to grow flowers that disperse pollen. Spring now comes about 3 weeks earlier than average compared to the past 20 years.
One study on CO2 emissions and climate change estimates that in the long term the current rate of CO2 emissions are on track to triple the pollen production by the end of the century. This means that if allergies have a big impact on your life, pay attention to the local pollen counts. You may even consider moving to the Western area of the US where allergy triggers are minimal compared to the East Coast.
What to do about increasing levels of pollen
- Watch the pollen count. If you live in Texas or Florida, prepare for pollen as early as January. However keep in mind that every place has different pollinating species, so if you are sensitive start precautions whenever your nose starts to itch.
- Remove pollen. Pollen builds up in the corners of the house and in rarely touched places like everything else that is dusty. Vacuum and use warm water and soap to get it off surfaces where it can be stirred up into the air.
Get ready for more mold
Mold is also on the rise, primarily due to unpredictable weather. As the climate continues to change, many places that had mild rains are having floods and places that didn’t used to get rain are learning how to dry out or face mold infestations. Mold is linked with asthma later in life and should be removed and dealt with as soon as possible.
The more intense storms that have been occurring lately as a result of climate change also stir up a lot more pollen and mold into the air. Thunderstorms during allergy season represent a significant respiratory threat due to the combination with mold, which can cause severe interactions between asthma and allergies. So look and sniff for mold, stop it, and take steps to be sure it doesn’t come back.
What to do about the risk of more mold
Take mold seriously. If your living space is getting wet on a regular basis or if you can smell mold, do something about it. Often a professional is required but the vigilance of the occupant is vital.
Take your allergies seriously
Only about a third of people with respiratory allergies seek medical support, and most of us just look for pills we can purchase and swallow without a doctor’s advice to go along. The problem of not dealing with allergies and letting them suck our energy away is a much bigger problem in men than in women. The average person with allergies suffers at an average severity of 6 out of 10 for an average of 9 weeks out of the year. That’s an awful lot of miserable sniffling and sneezing. Allergies are a disease just like any other and shouldn’t just be tolerated. Considering allergy attacks as symptoms of a serious disease can help people seek out treatment.
How to take allergies seriously
- Don’t become dependent on over-the-counter solutions. While it is an option to just keep popping Allegra, Zyrtec, Claritin, or other over-the-counter antihistamines, going to see your doctor is always the best solution. These medications are effective but aren’t cures and can lead to reliance on them instead of proper treatment. Some even cause very undesirable side-effects, for example the common allergy medication Benadryl has recently been linked to dementia if used for years on end.
- Go to an allergist and get modern allergy treatment. Immunotherapies are effective and proven ways to prevent allergic reactions before they happen by changing how your body’s chemistry reacts with allergy triggers. Allergists can also cue you into any drawbacks of over-the-counter meds or offer prescription medicine that works better, like Singulair.