AARP Eye Center
It’s not just your imagination: Your allergies are getting worse.
Compared to 1990, pollen season today kicks off 20 days earlier and sticks around eight days longer, according to a 2021 study. And sneezin’ season is more severe: Plants, grasses, and trees spew 21 percent more pollen in the air than they did 30 years ago.
A funny thing happens when you turn up the temperature or increase CO2 concentrations in the air: Plants produce more pollen, explains William Anderegg, associate professor of biology at the University of Utah and the lead author of the study mentioned above. How bad it can get depends on where you live and the plant species that proliferate there. His study found that Texas and the Midwest were particularly bad pollen hot spots. “This is a crystal clear example of how climate change is not in the future — it’s here with every breath we take in the springtime,” he says.
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If we don’t slow the cycle, and current trends continue, concentrations of ragweed pollen could double by 2060; grass pollen will triple, notes research analyst Hannah Jaffee of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
This is just unfair: As people get older, allergy symptoms tend to decline as our immune systems become less reactive with age. But our changing climate is robbing us of this natural protection, says allergist Neeta Ogden, M.D., spokesperson for the AAFA and a member of AAFA's Medical Scientific Councill. Not only will we continue to suffer symptoms, or even see them get worse, but ”with longer, more intense seasons, older adults can actually develop allergies for the first time in their lives,” she says. Currently, about 16 percent of adults over the age of 65 have been treated for hay fever, according to a 2019 CDC report, though there’s evidence it’s underrecognized and undertreated in those over age 60.
Don’t let allergy season catch you by surprise this year. Here are seven smart pieces of advice from experts about surviving the watery-eyes, stuffy-nose, congestion-filled months ahead.