Ahem, bless you. Feeling a bit itchier lately? Sneezier? Heavy on the brain fog? You’re not alone, and it doesn’t necessarily have much to do with age. We spoke with allergist Dr. Neeta Ogden, a partner to Allergan, who clued us in on why allergies seem to be getting worse as time rolls on.
“New and worsening seasonal allergies are quite common right now, largely due to climate change,” Dr. Ogden starts. As if Planet Earth’s impending doom wasn’t already bad enough, now we have watery eyes.
“A warmer planet and higher CO2 levels are optimal for plant and pollen growth and have led to ever-increasing pollen counts. We are also noticing longer seasons. Spring starts sooner and moves seamlessly into the summer and fall allergy seasons. All of this is creating a perfect allergy storm. This means that many adults are experiencing new-onset allergies for the first time ever, almost as if there are so many allergens in the air that symptoms are inevitable!”
While not everyone is susceptible to the intensity of pollen allergies (some have a higher tolerance than others), that might be changing due to quick shifts and spikes in climate. More and more people will see severe symptoms due to these intense seasons, Dr. Ogden warns, such as overwhelmingly itchy eyes, worsening breathing and asthma, and even some skin issues and rashes.
“For these, I usually recommend a number of therapeutic steps, including an everyday allergy eye drop,” Dr. Ogden says. (She recommends Lastacaft.) “Because symptoms can quickly spiral if not treated early, I prefer for patients to have this and other therapies ready in their medicine cabinets before the season begins.”
Because our allergies seem to be getting worse, we’re curious: Can we develop new allergies, or are our bodies just becoming less resilient, resulting in more intense reactions?
“You can definitely develop new allergies. This is quite common, actually, and has become a significant phenomenon in the past decade, with skyrocketing pollen counts and longer, stronger seasons. Additionally, people with existing allergies may notice that their allergies are worse—allergies that were mild in the past are more intense and require more medication.”
Age actually isn’t a marker for worsening allergies; according to Dr. Ogden, it’s actually quite the opposite. “Typically, with age, allergies tend to recede as the immune system becomes less robust. This dwindling of allergy symptoms, however, may not occur until someone is in their 80s or 90s now, because the current allergy seasons are aggressive and relentless and keep people symptomatic for longer periods of their lives.”
Dr. Ogden’s top tips for the allergy-afflicted involve preparation and avoidance: “Once you recognize that you are an allergy sufferer because you have a pattern of symptoms every year, it’s a good idea to check in with a board-certified allergy provider to get tested and find out what you are allergic to. This will help you then be more informed about what causes your allergies and how to prepare for a season and avoid the culprit allergens.”
Dr. Ogden backs all-natural remedies, as well. She suggests rinsing your nose and eyes with a preservative-free saline wash to rid those areas of pollen particles throughout the day and at night before bed. Saline rinses also help to keep your nasal passages moist, which is essential if nasal congestion, sinus inflammation, and mouth breathing are part of your symptoms.
“A cool-mist humidifier can also help with keeping airways from drying, which can worsen congestion. Invest in a HEPA-certified air purifier to remove any outdoor seasonal ambient allergens that may drift into your home, especially the bedroom. Sleep, exercise, and hydration are essential in the middle of the severe allergy season so that you have a strong immune groundwork to tackle the season.”
And, of course, dusting your favorite snacks and meals with bee pollen is a great way to bulk your resilience to allergens. Studies show that bee pollen is powerfully anti-allergic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory, properties that can kick our immune response into high gear by the height of pollen season.
Other all-natural support, Dr. Ogden tells us, include butterbur, stinging nettle, and quercetin, all of which have been shown in evidence-based studies to be effective all-natural therapies for allergies of all kinds. Having a layered, preventative approach is your best defense.