- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

For local nasal allergy sufferers, the damp, rainy weather over the past couple of days has been a respite from high levels of tree and flower pollen.

But with temperatures continuing to rise year to year, longer spells of warm weather mean increased pollen counts and a prolonged allergy season for the future.

“Washington, D.C., is one of many, many cities in the central and southern and eastern U.S. that have one of their warmest years, starts to the year on record,” said Jonathan Erdman, a senior meteorologist for Weather.com and The Weather Channel.

Mr. Erdman said the general consensus is that with a warming climate over the next several decades, pollen season will lengthen across much of the country.

“We get more carbon dioxide in the air that makes plants more efficient at producing pollen and growing faster,” he said. “This is just one of the things we’re going to have to deal with going forward.”

Researchers estimate that about 50 million people in the U.S. suffer from nasal allergies, which affect as many as 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Pollen from blooming trees — particularly birch, oak and cedar — is the culprit for nasal allergies in the spring; ragweed is the leading contributor to hay fever in the fall.

Across the U.S., spring arrived about three weeks earlier than typical, according to data from the USA National Phenology Network, a research consortium on seasonal phenomena. And researchers are trying to evaluate how warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide levels affect the environment and humans.

A 2010 report by the National Wildlife Federation asserted that “unchecked global warming will worsen respiratory allergies,” more airborne allergens will increase asthma attacks and poison ivy “grows faster and is more toxic” with increased levels of carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, scientists have recorded stabilized global emissions of carbon dioxide between 2013 and 2015 — a promising trend, considering that CO2 levels in 2013 surpassed 400 parts per million, the highest amount ever recorded by the Mauna Loa Observatory since 1958.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counted 20 million Americans over the past year diagnosed with rhinitis, or hay fever, our bodies’ rejection of pollen in the air.

Symptoms include sneezing, runny nose and red, watery eyes — a nuisance for many, but they can develop into serious respiratory infections for an unlucky few, especially children. The CDC counted 7.4 million children with respiratory allergies in the past 12 months. And data from the National Health Survey from 1997 to 2011 show that respiratory allergies are the most common type of allergy among children.

For Dr. Samantha Ahdoot, a pediatrician in Alexandria, Virginia, it’s not the uptick in new allergy cases that worries her but the increased severity of allergies in patients she already sees. She has noticed a trend in her patients needing multiple medications to control their symptoms.

“Kids are requiring a lot of medication for their allergies, the kids that I’m seeing now, there’s not many of them that can be treated with one medication, most of the kids I’m seeing are requiring two, three or four medications to control their allergies,” Dr. Ahdoot said.

She noted the case of one boy who was recently prescribed an inhaler and already was four other medications including a nasal spray, an oral antihistamine and an inhaled steroid. He had to be prescribed an oral steroid.

Dr. Ahdoot is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a member of the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health. The consortium warns that climate change negatively affects humans’ health.

“Some kids have minor sniffles and is not a big deal,” Dr. Ahdoot said. “But some have significant nasal congestion, eye irritation and itching that makes them quite miserable. They get sent home from school, have to go to the doctor’s, can’t play outside, and have to take multiple medications.”

• Laura Kelly can be reached at lkelly@washingtontimes.com.

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