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Sniffling and sneezing? You are not alone: Allergy season is here

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With above average moisture and warm temperatures, it’s looking to be a rough season for allergy sufferers.

Across the country, pollen counts are high, and people are reporting symptoms coming earlier and more intensely than usual.

So, if your sniffles and sneezing seems worse, you are not alone.

There are approximately 20 million Americans who report allergies to pollen and dust, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Everyone’s allergies are unique — depending on what they are allergic to, said Dr. Kevin Borgerding, an internal medicine physician at Yampa Valley Medical Associates and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. And the severity of symptoms can vary widely.

Depending on the allergen, some kick-start in the spring, some in summer and some in fall.

“And some all of the above.” Borgerding said. He counts himself among the allergy sufferers and said his allergies have already started, typically instigated by the budding Aspen trees.

And when there is more moisture, trees pollinate better.

Causes, symptoms and treatments

Allergies can start at any age. They can be genetic and can change in a variety of ways when people travel or move to a different environment.

Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms, Borgerding said.

An allergist or physician can help identify triggers and the best treatment, he said. Though these days, there are a ton of medications available over the counter, which used to previously require a prescription.

The “first line therapy” Borgerding recommends is inhaled nasal therapy.

Antihistamines help with the symptoms, he said, but don’t go as far as the steroid nasal spray to treat the underlying inflammation.

And the nasal spray is more targeted than oral medications, which affect the whole body and potentially, has more side effects.

There’s also immunotherapy, Borgerding said. An allergen shot gives tiny doses of the offending allergen, which stimulates your immune system bit by bit until the system is no longer sensitive to that allergen.

In terms of alternative ways to minimize the impact, avoidance of the allergen is of course part of the equation — if you can isolate the allergen.

But avoiding the outdoors isn’t a very fun solution during the summer in the mountains. 

The worst time to be outside is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., especially when the air quality index shows high pollen counts. You can view the pollen forecast on several websites, such as pollen.com.

A saltwater rinse can help flush out excess pollen, Borgerding said.

Other recommendations include showering after being outside and taking shoes off once inside. Pollen sticks to hair and clothes, so it helps to be aware how much is being brought indoors.

Allergy seasons are getting worst

As some people already expect allergies and learn what medication is most effective for them, studies show the number of allergy sufferers is growing.

In 1970, one in 10 Americans battled hay fever, according to Climate Central. By 2000, it was up to three in 10. Asthma is also on the rise.

More and more research points to climate change as one of the culprits for allergies — both in the number of people suffering from seasonal allergies as well as the longer and more severe seasonal bouts of sneezing and sniffling. 

Warmer temperatures increase pollen levels as growing seasons get longer, allowing trees to pollinate earlier and longer.

Some plants, like ragweed, are forecast to migrate north. New populations will be exposed to pollen-producing plants they previously hadn’t encountered.

Carbon dioxide also plays a role. Studies show the amount of pollen produced by plants doubles with higher levels of carbon dioxide and that pollen becomes more potent.

Scientists predict, if warming continues at its current pace, the growing season will increase by the end of the century, with it extending by about a month in most states. 

Last year wasn’t too bad, Borgerding said, being drier. But this year, “I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a bad season.”

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.