Allergies And A Changing Environment

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I live in the gardening capital of Canada, yet I was slammed with allergies when I went to the big city and visited downtown Vancouver last month, and it confused me. I was in the city, why were my allergies off the chart?

I did the modern thing and grumbled to no end about it on social media sites like Twitter as I bused around the big town. A fellow Twitterite sent me a link that explained how urban spaces are increasingly being filled with cloned and male trees, so they can’t flower or drop fruit, so city types won’t gripe about messy sidewalks. The downside? These trees pollinate like mad.

City gardens Vancouver

Allergy triggers

And so began my crash course in the world of allergy triggers. This trend of male/cloned trees makes sense in some regards, since no one likes chestnuts or apples falling on cars, but when it comes to allergy sufferers, it can cause a horrible uptick in symptoms.

In  The Vancouver Sun article that I was forwarded, a noted allergy researcher Thomas Ogren explained:

When several blocks are planted with trees that trigger allergies, it can create entire neighbourhoods called “pollen corridors” that can be highly irritating environments for humans.

Oh, dear. “Pollen corridors.” It explains why, spending two whole days walking around downtown Vancouver, my head was Mucus Ground Zero.

But then I learned something else. Apparently, it’s not just urban planning that’s complicit in some of us suffering worse allergies these days, but part of the problem is climate change.

Allergies and global climate change

Marlene Cimons of Climate Nexus, a climate-change thinktank, writes for Livescience.com, saying “The planet is getting warmer, and human behavior is responsible. The changing climate has brought early spring, late-ending fall, and large amounts of rain and snow. All of that, combined with historically high levels of carbon dioxide in the air, nourishes the trees and plants that make pollen, and encourages more fungal growth, such as mold, and the release of spores.”

And that’s not the end of it. Immunologist & Rutgers University research fellow Leonard Bielory, funded by the EPA to look into the future of pollen, wrote in another Livescience report of a recently released study from he and his colleagues, stating they fully expect pollen amounts to double by the year 2040. That’s right; double.

And worse, the pollen counts will peak weeks earlier than they have historically. According to his team’s studies, in 2000, pollen counts would begin April 14th and peak May 1st. In 2040, their findings show an estimated peaking date of April 8th.

In the same article, Christine Rogers, a Harvard University researcher, states that, every year, “Plants are flowering significantly earlier over time and advancing the [allergy] season by approximately 0.8 days per year.”

Baby sneezing

Allergies and your environment

If you’re already an allergy sufferer, where you live greatly influences your exposure. For instance, did you know that living in a river basin, like in Ohio or Mississippi, means higher humidity, therefore higher pollen counts?

But if you live in the mountains, there are fewer plants and therefore fewer allergy symptoms.

There’s a list available of the worst American cities for allergies, but allergies vary town to town, and what might be off the charts in one town might not even be a pollen that triggers you. Doctors recommend getting tested so you know what to avoid, including when it comes to choosing a town to settle in.

How to manage growing pollen counts and allergy symptoms

Then there’s your yard. Experts have a number of tips you can follow to minimize exposure at home:

  • Don’t plant hedges. They can collect pollen, mold, and dust, the worst of our triggers.
  • Don’t use wood chips and mulch. They grow moist and are hotbeds for mold.
  • Keep your lawn short, under 2” high, to avoid pollen blowing in the wind, or go wild and opt for a rock garden with select plants.
  • Keep plants that require insects for pollination, so they don’t spew their pollen in the air and escalate matters for you. These pollen grains are often heavier and will fall to the ground, not blow around.
  • Favor fruit- and flower-bearing plants. Speak to your local nursery to get some recommendations, as they can tell you what’s a more allergy-friendly plant.
  • Keep your yardwork to afternoons and evenings, particularly on cooler or cloudier days, when the counts should be lower.

Even showering when you get in, putting your gardening clothes in the wash right away, making sure you keep your face and body covered while you’re working, and washing your hair afterwards are all steps that are helpful for the allergy sufferer in our Brave New Allergic World.

Like most issues in life, knowledge gives you a lot of power in how to fight allergies and win. The more you know about your particular irritants, the more you can do to ensure you’re not forced to suffer the itchy, sneezy, wheezy life of the allergy sufferer more than is necessary.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.