Yes, it’s true: Pollen is worse than ever

Allergist says climate change a likely contributor to trend

BOSTON — It is, in essence, botanical love dust. But pollen isn’t getting much love in the Boston area this spring, with many experiencing what they swear is the worst allergy season ever.

And they are likely correct, said Dr. Lakiea Wright, an allergist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“So there is a trend over the years, year over year, having the worst season, and I would say that this season is no different in that regard,” she said.

Wright said the culprit for this trend, in part, is likely climate change, which is causing an extension of the growing season, higher pollen counts, bursts of pollen after extreme weather and more potent pollen.

And the end result of that: “More people are becoming sensitized and more patients are having allergy symptoms or these sorts of hay fever symptoms,” Wright said. “We see longer pollen seasons, more pollens being produced, these drastic swings in weather with these cold spells and these warm spells leading to intense pollen release.”

Limiting pollen exposure is one of the first steps to finding relief. That means avoiding outdoor activity when pollen counts are likely to be highest. In spring and early summer, that’s usually in the evening. In late summer into fall, the highest counts are usually in the morning. Pollen counts can rise sharply after it rains. And dry, windy, warm days can be some of the toughest for allergy sufferers to get through.

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For many allergy sufferers, the symptoms of the season remain the classics.

“My eyes are just watery half the time,” said Rhonda Duray of Dedham. “My nose runs in the morning like crazy.”

“All spring I’ve had a catch in my throat,” said Meg Nelson of Foxborough. “I feel like I always have this need to keep clearing my throat.”

Those and other common allergy symptoms, such as itching, are related to the release of histamine in response to allergen exposure. Antihistamine drugs, such as loratadine and diphenhydramine, counteract histamine’s effects.

While most allergy sufferers get at least some relief from these drugs, Wright said sometimes a visit to the allergist for immunotherapy is beneficial for severe cases.

“This is also known as allergy shots,” Wright said. “And it’s basically you’re given what you’re allergic to.”

Gradually, the dose of the allergen is escalated to get your immune system so ‘used to’ seeing the offending agent that it tones down its previous overblown response to no response at all.