Hay Fever: Symptoms, Treatments, and Climate Change Impact – Metro

There’s the sun, there’s the red eyes and the snot. Earlier this week, Sciensano officially declared the grass pollen season open. For almost one in six Belgians, this means a few weeks of suffering because of their pollen allergy. But how does such an allergy arise? And can you heal from it? Metro lists everything that hay fever sufferers need to know.

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is an allergy to pollen from trees (including hazel, alder, birch) or grasses. A pollen allergy is a chronic seasonal disease of which rhinitis is the most common form and asthma the most serious. The typical symptoms of a pollen allergy are: stinging, itchy, watery and red eyes, sneezing, nasal congestion, sinus congestion, runny nose, difficulty breathing, loss of sense of taste and smell, and itching in the back of the mouth or throat.

Are grass pollens worse than those from trees?

The grass pollen season is especially the season that affects most hay fever sufferers. It is estimated that at least one in six people in Belgium experience allergic symptoms when exposed to grass pollen. As of this week, grass pollen concentrations have exceeded the critical threshold of 50 pollen grains per cubic meter of air. The grass pollen season is also the longest, from May to July, with a particularly intense period in June. This is the result of the successive flowering of more than a hundred species that together form the grass family.

What can you do about it?

Those who are allergic to pollen should coordinate their treatment with an allergist and/or general practitioner. In case of severe complaints, you can take medication, such as pills or nasal sprays. Asthma patients should certainly not interrupt their treatment in order not to increase the risk of respiratory infections. In addition, it is important to avoid exposure to pollen as much as possible. For example, Sciensano recommends wearing sunglasses to prevent the allergens from coming into contact with the eyes. Wearing a mouth mask also helps to keep pollen away from the nasal mucosa. During this season it is better to keep the windows and doors closed when the pollen concentration is high. When it rains and the concentration is lower, you can ventilate for longer. It is better not to dry your clothes outside: pollen can stick to it. Even if you have been outside, it is better to wash your clothes and hair immediately for the same reason. And finally: use disposable tissues and go to the sea, where the air contains less tree pollen.

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Can you heal?

Those who are – rightly so – completely fed up with the allergic reactions can try to cure through immunotherapy. Pollen is administered to the patient in the form of droplets, injections or tablets. This way your immune system gets used to pollen and it will no longer react so strongly to it. About 80% of the patients would experience fewer complaints after that treatment. However, that does not mean that the allergy completely disappears for everyone. In addition, a treatment lasts three to five years if you want its lasting effects. Not unimportant: every year there is a price tag attached to it of about 500 euros. A treatment is not reimbursed.

Can you develop the allergy later in life?

That is certainly possible, although scientists have not yet found an unequivocal explanation for this phenomenon. There are two theories. On the one hand, it is possible that a serious virus infection suddenly causes your immune system to react incorrectly to pollen. That chance is higher in a season in which you come into contact with pollen a lot. Another way you could develop the allergy is through hormonal fluctuations. During pregnancy, for example, you can suddenly become more sensitive to pollen. However, being susceptible to pollen does not necessarily mean that you are allergic. If you think you are allergic, an appointment with the doctor is recommended to determine the allergy and / or to start treatment.

Climate change hits pollen season

Last year, Belgium had an unprecedented pollen season. On 4 June 2022, a record number of 433 grains per cubic meter was measured in Brussels. That is an extreme amount, knowing that a patient suffers from 50 grains per cubic meter. In the future, due to climate change, we will reach such peaks much more often. A 2022 study from the University of Michigan found that if temperatures continue to rise, the pollen season will get longer and allergies worse. The warmer temperatures would cause plants to flower forty days earlier in the spring. In the fall, grass pollen could continue to spread for up to nineteen days longer. If greenhouse gas emissions remain high, pollen levels could increase by 16-40%. But even if we drastically cut emissions now, allergies would still get worse as some damage is already irreversible.

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This article first appeared on Metro:

2023-06-02 03:16:01
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