Study: Allergy season to start earlier, last longer due to climate change

University of Michigan researchers expect higher concentrations of pollen in future

Allergy season is upon us once again, and experts say it is expected to begin earlier and earlier each year due to climate change. Here are some tips for easing your allergy woes.

Spring allergies are well underway for those affected this time of the year. And if it seems like allergy season is starting a little earlier each year, that’s because it is.

According to a new study out of the University of Michigan, climate change is making allergy season last longer and start sooner, now beginning closer to Valentine’s Day in February than St. Patrick’s Day in March.

And it’s only going to get worse, according to the study. Allergy season could start anywhere from 20-40 days earlier by the end of the century.

Researchers say wind-driven pollen is closely tied to temperature and precipitation changes, so as spring seasons get warmer earlier, plants pollinate much earlier and for a longer duration. The study found that different tree pollen varieties that once varied in timing will eventually overlap with each other, leading to overall higher concentrations of tree pollen.

Beaumont allergist and immunologist Dr. Devang Doshi says he is already seeing plenty of people suffering from allergies at his Royal Oak office, and he’s expecting a lot more.

“Within the next two-three weeks, we’re going to start getting tree pollen that’s going to catch us off guard -- like it usually always does -- as the weather warms up,” Doshi said.

Related: Achoo! Why warming climate is bad news for your allergies, asthma

Many people are experiencing early spring allergy symptoms, such as congestion, runny nose, throat irritation, sinus pressure and fatigue. According to Dr. Doshi, the first way to ease your symptoms is to start your allergy medicines before you become miserable.

“If you have a known history of seasonal allergies, and this is typically the time that you’ve had symptoms in the past ... go ahead and start those medications now,” Doshi said. “The tree pollen is really going to start very soon and it’s better to be ahead of the game with medications.”

Tip No. 2: Resist the urge to open the doors and windows as the weather warms up.

“That way, when you come inside, you’re minimizing your exposure and you’ve got a safe environment back in the house,” Dr. Doshi said.

People who struggle with allergies are also encouraged to change their clothes and shower after spending time outdoors.

And tip No. 4: Consider purchasing a portable air purifier, or a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) unit, for your bedroom or other spaces where you’re spending a lot of your time.

While over-the-counter medications can bring relief from mild allergy symptoms, many people can benefit from seeing an allergist. Dr. Doshi says that for many, those medications are just not effective enough, and people aren’t getting the relief they need.

“... Getting a little more information and getting tested and getting a better sort of overall evaluation, rather than just taking and relying on over-the-counter medications, makes all the sense in the world,” Doshi said.

Experts say you should also see an allergist if you’re getting recurrent sinus infections, or if your breathing is impacted.

“If there’s an underlying history of asthma or COPD, where they go out in certain times of the year and they’re experiencing a lot of the allergy symptoms, but now it’s affecting their breathing, that’s probably a time where they should see a specialist as well,” Dr. Doshi said.

People mixing and matching a lot of different allergy medications should seek an expert for help to determine the best plan of action.

“If you’re getting in a scenario where you’re trying a lot of different types of medications, and you’re not getting better, that’s probably the most important reason to say, ‘I think I need to see somebody to figure this out,’” Doshi said.

The allergist and immunologist warns that while over-the-counter allergy medications may be safe on their own, a lot of them are not safe if they are mixed together. The drugs can also interact with other prescription medications, so it’s important to have someone checking for interactions.

The bottom line: Allergists have a lot of other tools to ease your allergy symptoms, so if you’re not finding relief, it’s worth making an appointment.

Related: Sandra Ali shares story about developing sudden allergy to tree nuts

About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.