Climate and Weather Change Can Really Affect Allergies! Here’s How

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Many people across different countries are familiar with seasonal allergies, which can cause uncomfortable symptoms during specific times of the year. A runny nose, scratchy throat, sneezing, and watery eyes are all telltale signs that a new allergy season is here. But how exactly does the weather affect your allergies, and is there anything you can do to prevent it?

Keep reading to find out if the climate and weather changes can really affect allergies.

Do weather changes affect allergies?

Yes, of course! The weather is probably one of the biggest triggers for allergic symptoms, and many people find that their allergies get worse during certain times of the year, or during specific weather events. The weather affects many processes inside our bodies, so it’s no surprise that allergies are related to environmental conditions.

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Allergens such as pollen from trees and flowers, dust, and air pollution levels are all closely related to the weather conditions. These changes can differ depending on your geographical location, and they’re most common in places where there are distinct seasons throughout the year — as opposed to places located near the tropics, where seasons aren’t as pronounced.

Most common allergy seasons

Anyone can get allergies at any time of the year, but the environmental conditions during certain seasons can exacerbate allergies. Allergy season usually starts during spring, but this will largely depend on where you live. In some places, allergy season can start as early as February or March, but in other places, it doesn’t start until late spring.

This will vary depending on the weather, pollution levels, and natural vegetation where you live.

Pollen levels are usually high all through spring and summer, and in some locations, allergy seasons can last up until fall starts, or until mid-summer. As the weather gets colder, the causes of allergies change. In the fall and winter months, allergies are typically caused by mold or dust mites as we spend more time inside our homes.

Grass pollen during allergy season

It’s a good idea to identify whether your allergies are related to the seasons, and which seasons are worse for allergies where you live, since this can help you seek treatment at the right time or make lifestyle adjustments to reduce your symptoms. 

Your allergies can also get worse during isolated weather events, such as:

  • Colder weather: it’s common for people to develop a runny nose or dry eyes when the temperature drops. Cold temperatures can also trigger asthma attacks, if you have this condition. These changes are typically more common in people who exercise outside in the cold.
  • Warm weather: hot temperatures are usually linked to increased levels of air pollution, which is also a common allergy and asthma trigger.
  • Rainy days: rainy or humid weather promotes mold growth and dust mites, which can both cause allergies.
  • Dry, windy days: wind makes it easier for pollen and allergens to blow in the air, and it can also irritate your mucous membranes — such as your eyes and nose.

Allergies and climate change

You can be allergic to practically anything, but seasonal allergies are amongst the most common causes of allergies around the world.

Their symptoms can range from very mild to severe, and in some cases, they can have a significant impact on your quality of life.

Identifying symptoms of weather change allergies can make it easier for you to seek medical assistance and make lifestyle modifications that help you manage these manifestations.

Some of the most common symptoms of seasonal allergies include:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Itchy eyes and/or nose
  • Red, swollen eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Skin rash

Did climate change lead to more pollen in the air?

According to the experts, there has been an upwards trend in pollen count over the past few years. That’s because due to climate change, pollen seasons have been getting longer since the 1990s. Research has shown that pollen seasons have been lengthened by approximately 20 days in total since then, and there has been an overall 21 percent increase in environmental pollen levels. Increasing temperatures make the growing seasons longer, which results in higher quantities of pollen in the air, which explains this climate-related tree pollen explosion.

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But climate change doesn’t just affect pollen. It can also cause more heatwaves and increase air pollution, which are also factors that can contribute to allergy symptoms. Global warming has also led to an increase in the populations of certain insects that can kill trees and prompt wildfires, which can also worsen respiratory illnesses, including asthma and seasonal allergies.

What else may be causing your allergies if it’s not the season?

There are many things that can cause allergies, and they can vary from one person to the next. It’s important to identify what triggers your allergies, since this knowledge will allow you to avoid these allergens whenever possible. If you can’t avoid the cause of allergies, you will still be able to take treatment to reduce your symptoms whenever you’re exposed to the allergen.

Some of the most common allergens include:

  • Dust mites
  • Insect bites or stings
  • Nuts
  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Animal dander
  • Mold
  • Certain medications, such as NSAIDs and antibiotics
  • Latex
  • Household chemicals

How to ease seasonal allergies

As we mentioned above, the best way to prevent allergies is to avoid the substance or environment that is causing them, but we know that that’s not always possible. Weather change allergies, for example, are quite difficult to avoid because it would mean moving to a different geographic location.

However, there are certain things you can try to reduce your exposure to seasonal allergens, including:

  • Stay indoors during particularly dry, windy days. Heavy rain can also whip more pollen particles up in the air. So it’s a good idea to check the air quality index before stepping out. Remove your clothes once you come home and throw them in the washer. You can also take a shower to remove pollen and dust from your body and hair.
  • Don’t hang your fresh laundry outside, since this makes it easier for pollen and dust to attach to your clothes. Instead, use the dryer or hang your clothes inside the house.
  • Wear a mask if you’re going to go outside in dry, windy weather.
  • If possible, ask someone else to do chores that can increase pollen exposure, such as mowing the lawn, gardening, weed pulling, or sweeping floors outside the home.
  • Check the weather forecast for pollen levels and start taking your allergy medications when high pollen days are predicted, even if you don’t have any symptoms yet.
  • Keep your windows closed, especially during the night. Pollen levels are typically highest at night.
  • Avoid using fans, since they move pollen and dust around the room and make it easier for them to reach your airways. If you need to use a fan, make sure to wipe it with a damp towel every day.
  • Use high-quality filters for your air conditioner and heating systems, both at home and in your car.
  • Vacuum your floors and carpets regularly.
  • Try rinsing your sinuses using a neti pot or squeeze bottle filled with distilled water or saline solution.

If your seasonal allergies can’t be managed through lifestyle changes, it’s important to seek out medical assistance so your doctor can help you find a solution. In some cases, they could order allergy tests to figure out exactly what’s triggering your symptoms.

A woman changing the bedding during allergy season

Depending on the severity of your symptoms and how you respond to treatment, your doctor could recommend different medications for you. Common allergy medications include:

  • Oral antihistamines: these include common over-the-counter medications such as loratadine, fexofenadine, and cetirizine. These medications relieve allergy symptoms by temporarily drying out your mucous membranes, which improves symptoms like a runny nose or watery eyes.

  • Nasal sprays: sprays that contain cromolyn sodium can help relieve your symptoms of weather change allergy without many side effects.

  • Decongestants: decongestants are available as oral medications or nasal sprays, and they include oxymetazoline and phenylephrine. However, decongestants should only be used for short periods of time, since chronic use can lead to rebound symptoms.

  • Combined medications: you can find allergy medications that combine an antihistamine with a decongestant for greater convenience of use. Common combinations include loratadine and pseudoephedrine, and fexofenadine and pseudoephedrine, as well as nasal corticosteroids (Rx). 

  • Allergy shots: if your symptoms are too severe and don’t respond well enough to other treatments, your doctor could recommend giving you some allergy shots. This treatment is also known as allergy immunotherapy or desensitization, and it involves giving you several injections that contain very small amounts of the allergens that cause your symptoms. This will allow your body to become desensitized to them so that your immune system won’t react as strongly when you’re exposed to them.

Seasonal allergies can cause a range of symptoms that can be mild or severe. Although it can be difficult to avoid allergens such as pollen or air pollution, there are many lifestyle changes and treatments that can help you find relief during allergy season.

January 13, 2023