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Allergy severity varies from year to year

Though people often feel that their allergies get worse every year, it is not highly likely that seasonal allergies get worse over time. It is true, however, that the severity of allergies varies from year to year. Predicting how bad an allergy season will be is difficult because individual weather events can have a significant impact on allergens. The weather, for instance, largely contributes to how long and how strong an allergy season is. Hot, dry summers and harsh, cold winters often inhibit the growth of tree and flower buds in, which can reduce symptoms for those who suffer from hay fever, or allergies to grass. Further, just because an allergy season may start earlier does not mean it may end earlier. Weather can produce a longer allergy season.

Rain is an interesting contributor to seasonal allergies, as it can both exacerbate and improve allergy symptoms, depending on the context. Rain in the spring may get rid of pollen from trees, minimizing the effect of that pollen on allergy sufferers. Nonetheless, the longer-term impact of the rain could be improved conditions for grasses and weeds to grow in the summer, enhancing the pollen in the air throughout the summer months and wreaking havoc on the immune systems of those with relevant allergies. Pollen and ragweed, which are late summer allergens, are some of the most problematic allergy triggers. Thus, though spring rain may seem wonderful in April, the impact it has on those with allergies in the summer may outweigh the spring benefits. However, if winter was particularly harsh, the rain from spring may not be enough to ensure a lot of pollen in the air in the summer. Thus, the best weather for minimizing allergy symptoms may be a long, cold winter and a rainy spring.

Trees can also have both a negative or positive impact on allergies. Though they can act as natural filters that remove pollutants from the air, some studies have shown that higher exposure to tree pollen increases the chances of developing an allergy to the pollen. The spacing of trees can also improve allergy conditions. When trees are concentrated too heavily in certain areas, the amount of pollen in the air can reach levels that are going to adversely affect those with pollen allergies. It therefore may be that there is an ideal balance in tree density, and the type and distribution of trees, to minimize allergies in a given area.

Research that aids in our understanding of allergies can help us to improve allergy severity over time. For instance, research suggests that a great number of plant species is better for our health. Thus, by strategically breeding and planting plants, we can design environments that are more amenable to low levels of allergies. Certain plants, such as the dawn redwood, the hawthorn, and the tulip poplar, have lower allergy potentials than other plants. Further, insect pollinated plants do not bloom as long as wind=pollinated plants and so are also better for allergies. Insect plants’ pollen is also stickier, preventing it from traveling easily through the air.

Another issue for allergy sufferers is that in many places, there is a disproportionate amount of male trees. The problem with having more male trees is that the males are the ones that produce pollen. Female trees are better for allergies than are male trees not only because they do not produce pollen, but female trees also filter pollen from the air by trapping pollen particles. Thus, by increasing the proportion of female trees, we could reap the benefits of trees while minimizing the amount of pollen in the air.

Certain cities are capitalizing on research to try to reduce allergies. For instance, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, and Tucson do not allow extremely allergenic plants like mulberries and olive trees to be planted. Of course, because many of these trees are already present, it could take years for these trees to die and for people to reap the benefits of lower numbers of these allergy-inducing plants.

Though it may not be possible for general citizens to impact the specific types and distributions of trees in their local area, there are strategies individuals can take to minimize exposure to pollen and reduce the impact of allergies during years that are particularly conducive to allergy problems. For instance, implementing preventative measures, such as seeing a doctor and taking proper medications before allergy symptoms occur is a good way to shield yourself from allergies in tougher seasons or years. Keeping yourself and your belongings indoors and showering at night when pollen levels can help. Keeping only plants that are allergy friendly, such as bamboo palm, ficus, English ivy, and peace lilies is another good strategy to minimize allergy symptoms.

Dr. Summit Shah

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