Does Rain Make Allergies Worse
Your grass is starting to grow tall; your flowers are blooming and it’s officially springtime. But here comes that dreaded cold front with its promise of snow, ice and sleet. It’ll be here before you know it, but what happens when the skies open up? Will allergies get worse this time of year because it rained so much last winter?
It turns out there’s some evidence that yes, rainy seasons can make your allergies worse by creating more allergen particles on the ground. That means when you go outside for a walk or ride, you might notice more pollens floating around than usual — even if it hasn’t rained recently.
Allergy sufferers have long known about the effects of weather changes on their condition, says Dr. Ruchi Gupta, an allergist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago who specializes in treating patients with respiratory diseases such as asthma, rhinitis (hay fever) and sinus problems. “But we still don’t understand why this happens,” she says.
The reason behind this phenomenon has to do with how our airways work. The human nose contains millions of tiny hairs called cilia. These cilia line the nasal passages, trapping dust and other allergens so they’re filtered from entering the lungs. When these cilia are short-circuited, however, they let in larger particles like pollen which can cause sneezing, coughing and wheezing. So when it rains, the cilia are busy cleaning the mucous membranes and need less help getting rid of airborne pollutants. With fewer obstacles, pollen spores and other small allergens can pass through the nose and throat to the lungs where they trigger allergic reactions.
This may explain why people with seasonal allergies tend to experience more severe symptoms during warm, dry periods. However, scientists aren’t sure why exactly this process happens. But one thing seems clear: During wetter times, pollens and other allergens stick together on the surface of plants, trees and grasses and become harder to dislodge. If this weren’t enough, certain chemicals produced by plants also act as binding agents. A study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology found that after four days of continuous rainfall, ragweed concentrations were three times higher than normal.
So does the fact that it rained so much over the past several years mean that allergy sufferers will continue to suffer through the next few months? Let’s take a look.
Rain Makes Pollen Particles Easier to Breathe In
According to Gupta, many people believe that since it rained so heavily last season, they should start experiencing more breathing difficulties. After all, isn’t that what happened to them during the previous spring and summer? Unfortunately, studies show otherwise.
A study conducted at the University of California Los Angeles showed that although there was more pollen present in the air during the rainy season, most individuals actually experienced improved lung function due to better ventilation. This was probably caused by the increased use of air conditioning units, according to the researchers. Other research indicates that while pollen levels could rise during the rainy season, only 10 percent of people will have any significant reaction to it. And among those who do, it won’t necessarily lead to hay fever.
If you think your allergies are worsening because of recent rainstorms, it’s important to see your doctor. He or she may prescribe medication to control your allergies and provide information on methods to reduce exposure to allergens. If your health care provider determines that you are suffering from heightened allergies, he or she can recommend the proper course of action, including taking antihistamines, avoiding triggers and using air filters.
In addition to keeping your grass trimmed and your windows closed, you can take further steps to prevent indoor allergens from spreading outdoors. One way to do this is to use an air purifier or air cleaner with a high efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filter. HEPA filters remove 99.97 percent of allergens, viruses, bacteria, mold and other contaminants from the air. They also require little maintenance aside from emptying the collection bin every six months or so.
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