Another thing to thank for is climate change – long-term sensitivity
Sneezing more this spring than usual? Allergy long sleeper kicked? you are not alone. Through anecdotal evidence, The Voice has heard from a number of readers that this year has made them sniff more than the past – and take the long-term view that they’re right.
We can expect more widespread allergy seasons in the coming years, as evidence suggests that climate change is causing warming, which is associated with increased pollen from trees, grass, and weeds.
Common symptoms of seasonal allergies include sneezing, runny nose, cough from postnasal drip and nasal congestion — all of which overlap with Covid-19 symptoms, which can instill a sense of panic in some people.
Global News reported that scientists found a 21 percent increase in pollen concentrations over the past three decades while studying nearly 800 sites across North America. The combination of higher temperatures, allowing plants to bloom earlier and later, and higher carbon dioxide levels causing more pollen to be produced, is the driving force behind exacerbated allergy seasons.
In Ontario, tree or birch pollen season usually begins in late April and lasts for several weeks, while pollen season begins in May. Ragweed season usually begins in August, and lasts until the first frost of autumn.
There are also economic consequences to the heightened sensitivity, as more Canadians take sick leave, costing companies millions of dollars in productivity losses.
Niagara Health’s chief medical officer, Dr. Mustafa Harji, told The Voice that the main monitoring system for air quality in Canada is AQHI which is powered by Environment Canada.
“You can refer to the St. Catharines classification – which is intended to be the Niagara-level classification – for air pollutants that could be harmful to people with asthma or underlying lung disease,” Hergé said. However, it is not a direct indication of an allergen. So we don’t have data to assess whether or not the allergens are worse this year.”
The AQHI website can be found at https://weather.gc.ca/airquality/pages/onaq-015_e.html.
Another pollen index can be found at https://www.theweathernetwork.com/en/city/ca/ontario/niagara/pollen.
The good news is that the latest generation of non-drowsy antihistamines are long-lasting and won’t keep you up at night.
Dr. Adam McNeill, professor of applied health sciences at Brock University, leads an inflammation and immunology lab with a focus on trying to understand the molecular mechanisms that support allergy symptoms. His research team is looking at new approaches to understanding and preventing allergic inflammation caused by chronic diseases, including asthma, hives, rhinitis, and food allergies.
“I think there are a lot of things going on here in Niagara, which is clearly a rich agricultural region, where we have a tremendous diversity of different types of flowering plants,” McNeill said. “There does appear to be a long-term pathway that includes an increase in allergy burden, and certainly Niagara is likely to be among those areas on the edge.”
There are a range of over-the-counter decongestants and corticosteroids that can be used successfully in conjunction with antihistamines, McNeil said.
“My lab is very focused on mast cells, which are immune cells that are located under your skin, in your lungs and oral cavities, and your digestive system,” he said. “These are immune guards, basically, targeting the special immune mechanism that drives the secretion of mast cells that gives you these allergy symptoms. In the worst case scenario, we’re talking about things like peanut allergies that trigger severe allergic reactions, which require an injection of adrenaline. that can help save people’s lives.”
We’ve certainly seen some new Niagara residents with allergy symptoms that they might not have experienced in other areas of the county or country.
McNeil said those who have had significant allergic reactions should always ask their doctor for a referral to a clinical allergist for good guidance about what might be the ideal medication.
Glen Sisak and Zenia Winnicki, at Fonthill’s PharmaChoice, consider 2022 to be a pretty average year so far for allergies.
“Allergy season may have started a little earlier, which seems to be becoming the norm,” Glenn said. “We have certainly seen some new Niagara residents with allergy symptoms that they may not have experienced in other areas of the county or country. Fortunately, most people respond well to newer antihistamines.”
Pharmacist Kyle Boggio agreed with Sisak’s assessment, telling The Voice that in his view, this allergy season appears to be somewhat consistent with previous years.
“The best course of action, and the recommendation I generally have for allergy sufferers, is to speak with a pharmacist when looking for an over-the-counter allergy medication. There are a variety of options, some of which are more effective in treating certain symptoms and allergic reactions. Not all medications are suitable for all people. So it’s a good idea to check with your pharmacist to make sure your allergy medications are safe to take, given your personal medical condition and any other medications that have been prescribed.”
People with allergies should try to avoid airborne allergens by closing doors and windows indoors, using air conditioners, and avoiding outdoors on hot, dry, windy days. When working outside in the garden or cutting the lawn, it is also recommended to wear sunglasses, a hat, and possibly a mask that covers the nose and mouth. Clothes that are worn outside should be washed immediately, and washing bed sheets regularly helps.