Is your city an ‘allergy capital’? This is where the pollen was worst last year.

If you live in the Midwestern United States, brace yourself for intense allergy season. . . for the rest of your life.

Allergy season is intensifying across the country, lasting longer and there are more pollen in the air. That’s bad news for the more than 60 million people in the United States who suffer from allergy-related sneezing, congestion, and watery eyes. And like brands of tissues, not all pollen-induced sneezes are created equal. Some places have it particularly bad.

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A report released Wednesday by the nonprofit Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America revealed last year’s “allergy capitals” in the US. These were the most challenging places to live for people with pollen allergies. The rankings were based on pollen counts and took into account the use of over-the-counter medications and the number of allergy doctors in the area.

The hardest place to live with allergies last year was Wichita, according to the report, followed by Dallas; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Oklahoma city; and Tulsa to round out the Top 5 locations. Seven cities in the Top 20 were in Florida.

“We’re seeing a lot more [pollen] in the south, which we expect because the southern cities have warmer winters. The plants grow and produce pollen for extended periods of time,” said Sanaz Eftekhari, the foundation’s vice president of research and author of the report.

Some cities in the Northeast, such as Scranton, rank highly for their lack of use of over-the-counter medications and the number of allergists.

Some of the least challenging places to live with allergies last year were Buffalo, according to the report; Seattle; Cleveland; Austin; Akron, Ohio; and D.C. While some of these locations may also have had high levels of pollen, they also had good access to medications and specialists to manage symptoms, which are described by category in the report.

This year’s results are broadly consistent with regional trends observed over the past decade in the foundation’s pollen data, which is collected from several pollen sensors in the 100 most populous U.S. metropolitan areas. In data shared with The Washington Post, the cities that have consistently ranked as having the highest pollen rankings in the country over the past decade are: McAllen, Tex.; Oklahoma city; Richmond; San Antonio; and this year’s champion, Wichita.

“Wichita and Pennsylvania are some areas with extremely high levels,” said Landon Bunderson, a pollen researcher and CEO of Pollen Sense, a company that provided pollen data for this year’s Allergy Cities report. While many ground stations collect pollen grains and require someone to count them by hand (as Bunderson had to do for his doctoral research), these devices automatically count the grains every hour.

Plant ecologist William Anderegg, who was not involved in the report, said: “There is a lot of complexity and variation, especially in terms of plant species and amount of vegetation, from city to city.” He said what determines the total amount of pollen in a city is a combination of climate (such as the length of the growing season), plant species and amount of vegetation.

He said he would expect slightly higher pollen levels in the Southeast, where his research showed there is an increase in pollen due to climate change. He also noted big increases in Texas and the Midwest, which already show high pollen data.

Early start to a breathtaking 2023 season

This year’s allergy season is coming early and in full force. Parts of the south and northeast experienced record heat in January and February. As a result, spring leaves appeared up to 20 days early in the eastern half of the country. The South experienced its earliest arrival of spring in four decades.

High pollen counts followed, according to Pollen Sense sensors. Atlanta saw “extremely high” pollen counts in March, according to the Atlanta Allergy & Asthma pollen counting station. In DC, tree pollen counts reached an all-time high in February.

“Because we’ve had a milder winter overall, we’ve seen an earlier pollen bloom,” said Anjeni Keswani, the physician and director of the Allergy, Asthma & Sinus Center at George Washington University in DC. mold spores do not freeze or freeze significantly, so we also have a slightly earlier mold season.”

Keswani said she usually starts seeing pollen cases around March, but tree pollen levels were already rising in January and February. People started coming in around Valentine’s Day to treat their symptoms.

While the report said DC did well in terms of allergy risk last year, Keswani said she didn’t notice any fewer patient visits. She said any spring pollen season in DC is important, though DC doesn’t typically have a strong fall allergy season like other places.

She added that busy cities, with lots of traffic exhaust fumes mixing with the pollen, could mean even more bad news for people.

“If we inhale some sort of airborne particulate matter at the same time as the pollen, it can stimulate the immune system even more and cause more symptoms,” Keswani said.

Bunderson’s company’s ground sensors have also measured “mega events” of more than 15,000 pollen grains per cubic meter within an hour, which he said usually occur as a microburst at the front of a storm. When pollen is released, our bodies may mistakenly identify the harmless substance as dangerous and produce chemicals to fight it, leading to sneezing, wheezing, watery eyes and congestion.

“They happen when we have a big day to ripen and then we get an extreme wind event,” Bunderson said. “For someone who suffers from asthma, that [megaevents] are life-threatening,” he said.

It’s not particularly easy to predict pollen plumes, and thus allergy intensity, far – the plumes often depend on weather and wind conditions, which can aggravate and spread pollen. Currently, Pollen Sense can predict three days into the future.

Right now, Keswani said, she’s trying to prevent and treat pollen allergies in humans with vaccines and medications.

“Pollen and pollen allergies are here to stay. With climate change, they have the potential to get even worse,” she said.

How climate change is exacerbating allergy season

Allergy sufferers know how this goes: Spring is calling and the pollen is starting to fall. The flowers keep rolling and our noses got swollen.

But recently, people are experiencing a more intense allergy season — and climate change is the reason.

Climate change affects allergy season in multiple ways. Many trees and plants require a certain amount of sustained heat to initiate bud formation. The warmer winter temperatures allow them to gather the necessary amount of heat more quickly, causing them to flower earlier and for a longer period of time. The average temperature of winter, the fastest warming season, has risen more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit in the eastern United States since 1970.

Increased levels of carbon dioxide can also help stimulate photosynthesis so that trees and plants produce more pollen.

Ecologists, doctors and atmospheric scientists have already documented changes. Across North America, the pollen season has been extended by 20 days since 1990. Pollen concentrations have also increased by 21 percent over the past three decades. Data showed the biggest changes in the Midwest and Texas.

Climate models show that the pollen season could worsen by the end of the century with high greenhouse gas emissions. The northern United States will experience more changes than the south due to greater temperature changes, but it also depends on the tree species in each area.

The Northeast could experience more pollen production as some trees’ blooms may go up. As a result, several tree species bloom at the same time. The Southeast is likely to experience the greatest increase in pollen production due to prolific pollen-producing oak and cypress species, which are dominant in the region.

“On a larger scale, we really support all efforts to combat climate change, because that leads to this increased concentration of pollen in the air in the long run,” Eftekhari said.

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Is your city an ‘allergy capital’? This is where the pollen was worst last year.

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