Climate change could make summer longer... and hayfever worse. Image: Nita/Pexels
Hay fever sufferers – stock up on the antihistamines.
The Met office has forecast “very high levels” of certain types of pollen this spring.
The prediction is grim news for the one-in-four Brits who suffer from seasonal allergies. But, unfortunately, it could be a sign of things to come.
“Climate change will very likely cause increasingly erratic and unpredictable seasons and weather patterns,” the Met Office has warned.
“The biggest defence for hay fever sufferers is to be prepared, something which these changes caused by climate change will make more difficult.”
So why is your hay fever so bad this year – and how can you protect yourself from the year’s first ‘pollen bombs’?
Why are hay fever symptoms so bad this year?
For some, the arrival of spring means beautiful flowers and long evenings. For others, it means bulk-buying tissues.
In the UK, pollen season generally begins in March and lasts until around September. Climate change will likely lengthen this period.
Trees release pollen first, followed by grass, then weeds. Increasingly hot summers supercharge pollen production in trees, while warmer weather means plants leaf and bloom earlier. Research from the United States shows that the North American pollen season could last up to 20 days longer than it currently does. Total pollen could increase by 200 per cent.
A study from the University of Worcester found that UK oak and grass pollen seasons are starting earlier, and the birch season is getting more severe.
“Climate change is causing some plants to produce more pollen by increasing temperatures during the pollen production period,” Beverley Adams-Grooms, lead author of the study, told the Big Issue.
“Birch trees, which affect around a quarter of hay fever sufferers in the spring, are producing more pollen over time because of increasing June temperatures, when the pollen is set.”
However, the relationship between climate change and pollen production isn’t completely straightforward.
“Extreme summer weather events triggered by global warming, such as very high heat or drought, can reduce grass pollen emission or even stop the grasses flowering completely, leading to a shortened season,” Adams-Grooms explained.
Yet other models predict that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could increase grass production by around 60 per cent.
Overall, the future will bring more unpredictable seasons, Adams-Grooms warns. Lots of rain will produce a milder but longer season, while lots of warmth will bring on the average severity but over a shorter season than average.
A warm and wet spring this year means a big early-season pollen bomb is likely in 2023.
“It’s not possible to forecast for the whole pollen season at this range, but we’re expecting a large amount of tree pollen in the air in the coming weeks,” said Yolanda Clewlow, the Met Office’s UK pollen forecast manager.
How can I stop my hay fever symptoms?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for hay fever, but sufferers can manage symptoms.
Firstly, you can avoid hay fever triggers. These include freshly cut grass and flowers.
Be wary of pets, who can carry pollen indoors, and do not dry clothes outside, where they can catch grains.
To manage symptoms, the NHS recommends the following steps:
· Put Vaseline around your nostrils to trap pollen
· Wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting into your eyes
· Shower and change your clothes after you have been outside to wash pollen off
· Stay indoors whenever possible
· Keep windows and doors shut as much as possible
· Vacuum regularly and dust with a damp cloth
· Buy a pollen filter for the air vents in your car and a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter
You can treat the itchy throat and blocked nose with antihistamines, while corticosteroids (often just called steroids, but these ones won’t make you buff) can reduce inflammation and swelling. An Allergy UK study found that 57 per cent ofhay fever sufferers have sleep problems. For help sleeping, take a hot shower before bed – the steam can alleviate nasal congestion.