A factor that has become increasingly important to consider when evaluating allergy season is the impact of global warming.
“With global warming, we’re actually seeing a longer pollen season now,” said Stephen Krinzman, associate professor of medicine and director of allergy services at UMass Memorial Medical Center. “And also with the increased carbon dioxide levels in the air, the increased carbon dioxide feeds the plants, which actually increases the intensity of the pollens.”
Each spring, the severity of pollen allergies fluctuates. The strength of spring allergies heavily depends on the weather because pollen relies on the warm weather, Krinzman said. The earlier it warms up, the longer the time frame in which trees are pollinating can be.
“Allergy season usually starts in March, which is interesting because that’s before you see the trees pollinate,” Krinzman said. “We actually already have measurable levels of tree pollen in this area.”
Medication is the top combatant of spring allergies, and there are a variety of options available. Krinzman said for many people, over the counter options will do the trick, although sometimes a more targeted treatment is necessary.
“Generic forms of Claritin, Allegra, Zyrtec, those are convenient because you can just take them as needed,” Krinzman said. “They have no side effects in most people, and they are good for sneezing and itching. For more severe allergies, it makes most sense to put the medication right where the problem is and they are the nasal sprays, which works a lot better.”
However, some nasal sprays, such as Oxymetazoline, which goes under the trade name of Afrin, can be addictive. Krinzman said steroid nasal sprays are the safest because they can be effective without making the body reliant on them.
“The steroid nasal spray really just stays in the nose, they don’t get into your body,” Krinzman said. “It’s not like taking a steroid pill, and they aren’t addicting. When you stop it, it wears off like any other medication. There’s no dependency that you get from those.”
The timing of taking allergy medicine does not require as much predicting as some may guess. Krinzman said pill medications can provide relief in as little as an hour, while the nasal sprays of the steroid family work within five days.
Krinzman said the best way to avoid exposure to allergens is to stop outside air from coming directly into the home, no matter how tempting that spring warmth might be.
“So if you have air conditioning, which works really well as a pollen filter, keeping the house closed up in your pollen season and using the air conditioning can make a big difference,” Krinzman said.