For area residents who feel like they've had more allergies than usual since February, they may be right.
This year was the fourth warmest winter on record for many parts of the U.S. The warm temperatures and lack of wintry precipitation have triggered an early release of pollen from trees leading to an early crop of allergies.
Tree pollen is the main driver for allergies.
As the trees have started to bloom and pollen gets in to the air, allergy sufferers have begun their annual ritual of sniffling, sneezing, and running for the tissue box.
Approximately 50 million Americans have some form of allergy, a statistic that has been increasing since the 1980s. Today, allergies are the third most common chronic disease among children and adolescents, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Further, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, half of the 20 million Americans with asthma have allergic asthma. Allergic asthma is a type of asthma that is triggered by an allergy.
For those with allergic asthma, breathing pollen can cause coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, leading to stepping up or starting medications to help get these symptoms under control.
Climate scientists are looking at how environmental factors such as temperature, length of the pollen season, and air pollution affect allergies and asthma.
As the warm seasons get longer and hotter, allergy sufferers are exposed to pollen for a longer period of time and in larger amounts.
The most powerful tool allergy sufferers have against potential climate change affects is taking preventive measures to minimize symptoms.
The Michigan Department of Community Health has some tips for coping with spring allergies:
- Take allergy medications as prescribed by your physician.
- Keep the windows in your home closed, which prevents pollens from drifting in.
- Minimize morning activity when pollen levels are at their highest, between 5 and 10 a.m.
- Keep your car windows closed when driving.
- Stay indoors when the pollen count is reported to be high, and on windy days when pollen may be present in higher amounts in the air.
- Use a clothes dryer to machine dry bedding and clothing, instead of hanging clothes on a clothesline, which can cause laundry to become coated with pollen.
Experts also advise reducing exposure to dust mite allergens:
- Remove carpets and keep upholstered furniture to a minimum.
- Encase your mattress, box springs and pillows in allergy-free, washable zippered encasings to control odors, dust, pollen, mold, animal dander, as well as some bacteria.
- Use an air purifier in the bedroom of the allergy sufferer.
- Hang clothes in your closet and shut the door, or put them in dresser drawers.
- Keep pets out of the bedroom; they are a popular feeding source for dust mite allergens.
- Cooler nighttime temperatures (between 68 and 72 degrees) promote better sleep for the allergic individual.
Reduce your exposure to house dust:
- Leave the dusting and vacuuming to someone without house dust allergies or dust mite allergies.
- If you must vacuum, wear a pollen mask to avoid allergens and use a vacuum cleaner with an anti-allergen high-efficiency HEPA filter.
- Use a damp mop and damp cloth on floors, windowsills, under furniture, on window blind slats, bedsprings and other dust catchers.
- Keep pets and pet dander allergens out of the house. Your family's allergy-free health is more important than the habits of your pet.
Reduce your exposure to pollens:
- Educate yourself and your family about the pollen allergy season and the local pollen allergen timetable.
- Stay indoors during peak pollen allergy seasons.
- Keep windows and doors closed. "Fresh air" is not "fresh" for allergic individuals.
- Caulk and seal windows to stop pollen and dust infiltration.
- Bathe pets frequently and keep pets outdoors. Pets bring pollen inside on their fur and dust mite feast on pet dander.
- Replace regular filters on air conditioning system air returns.
Severe allergic reactions and asthma attacks can be life-threatening.
Work with your doctor ahead of time to determine what to do when your signs and symptoms worsen - and when you need emergency treatment.
If your quick-relief medications do not relieve symptoms of a severe allergy or asthma attack, seek emergency help right away.