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It’s a bad spring for allergy sufferers. Climate change could make seasons like this happen more often

Cosmos at Oakbroo ready for cutting and gathering into a beautiful bou
Kathleen McCoy
Oakbrook West Farm
Cosmos at Oakbrook West Farm, ready for cutting and gathering into a beautiful bouquet.

Sniffles, sneezes and scratchy throats are common this time of year for seasonal allergy sufferers.

This season may be worse for some compared to recent years.

“Well, it's worse because it started earlier, I would say,” said Dr. Eric Schauberger. He’s a board-certified allergy immunologist at UW Health and the University of Wisconsin.

According to Schauberger, the extended allergy season is a side effect of our extremely mild winter.

Tree pollen got an early start this year because of the lack of snow and warm temperatures.

“The [pollen] counts here also got a little bit higher than normal. So you’ve literally been inundated with pollen when you walk outside,” said Schauberger. “It’s hard to predict with how the grass pollen season is going to go. I would suspect just based off of what we've already seen that it's going to probably, again, kind of start earlier than we typically see.”

This follows a trend over recent years.

Data from the USA National Phenology Network indicates that on average, the start of spring has occurred earlier in the contiguous United States since 1984.

One study found total pollen amounts increased up to 21% between 1990 and 2018 nationwide. The Midwest and Texas recorded the greatest increases.

With climate change, our springs are expected to start earlier which is more conducive for pollinating plants.

So not only is there expected to be more pollen, but depending on what triggers someone’s allergy, they can expect more days of allergy symptoms.

“A lot of research showing specifically that ragweed is going to worsen with climate change,” said Schauberger.

Mold is another allergy that triggers symptoms in many people. That is also expected to get worse as climate changes.

“Pretty much anytime there's not snow on the ground, there is a possibility of having mold floating around. There's indoor molds and there's outdoor mold. The outdoor molds, the ones specifically called Alternaria, and that one again, it's anytime it gets warm and humid and windy, especially, after rains, that type of thing, that mold counter is going to go up very quickly,” said Schauberger.

Seasonal allergies can be dangerous for people with breathing issues like asthma.

On top of that, wildfire smoke like we’ve already experienced once this year can make matters worse.

“Being cautious around kind of a double whammy of maybe pollen that they're allergic to, plus the Canadian wildfire smoke and worsening air quality,” said Schauberger. “Being very conscious of what the air quality and what the pollen conditions are, and utilizing their medications properly. If they're struggling with their asthma, then they definitely need to see an asthma specialist to kind of help navigate.”

Schauberger likes the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology and EPA Air Now website to check daily pollen counts and air quality.

For many people, Schauberger says over-the-counter seasonal allergy medicine is generally safe as long as you follow the directions on the box.

There are a lot of different kinds of allergy medicine.

He says people should be particularly mindful when it comes to nasal sprays.

Schauberger typically recommends nasal steroids over nasal decongestants, but they do take about a week before they’re effective.

“If you're already behind the ball, i.e., it's been pollen season for several weeks now and you've been miserable for a couple of weeks, it's going to probably take longer than that for it to start to work because you're literally spraying into nose that's 100%, very congested. It's not going to get back into the nose as well as we would like,” said Schauberger.

Schauberger does encourage people to see their healthcare provider or find an allergist if seasonal allergies are causing breathing issues or are impacting quality of life.

Katie Thoresen joined WXPR as the News Director in August of 2020. While new to WXPR, she's not new to Rhinelander. Katie previously worked for WJFW and has spent the last five years working in TV.