More sneezing, itchy eyes — allergy season is expanding

Black and Hispanic individuals are disproportionately underdiagnosed for seasonal allergies.
A man with allergies sneezes while at his work desk, covering his nose with a tissue.

Climate change is making allergy season start earlier and last longer, and many of us may be feeling the sneeze.

Common allergy symptoms include sneezing (including “sneezing fits”); nasal congestion; runny nose; and itchy eyes, nose, throat and ears, says Lorraine Anderson, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist at UCLA Health.

About a quarter of U.S. adults experience allergic rhinitis, or seasonal allergies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Studies show that seasonal allergies and comorbid asthma are disproportionately underdiagnosed in Black and Hispanic individuals.

The reason for this underdiagnosis is multifactorial, Dr. Anderson says, including limited access to allergy-specific testing and allergy-immunology specialists in underserved areas; implicit bias among treating clinicians; and higher exposure to indoor allergens (such as dust mites, mold, cockroaches and other vermin) and air pollution in low-income and urban neighborhoods.

Members of Black and Hispanic populations are also less likely than white individuals to receive allergen immunotherapy treatment, which can help treat allergies long-term, a 2023 study found.

“It’s important for anyone who has severe allergies, or seasonal allergies and asthma, to seek out the help of a clinician or an allergy-immunology specialist to help manage your symptoms,” Dr. Anderson says.

Seasonal allergies are triggered by pollen and molds, which are influenced by weather factors such as wind, rain and heat. The effects of climate change on weather patterns, with warmer temperatures and more severe rainstorms, are leading to longer seasons of potentially problematic pollen and mold. Exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution also contributes to allergic rhinitis.

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Seasonal allergies aren’t just physically uncomfortable, they also affect psychological well-being, Dr. Anderson says. 

“Having seasonal allergies has been linked to an overall poor quality of life, and symptoms of anxiety, depression, poor concentration, low productivity, and interruptions in sleep quality, with conditions like sleep disordered breathing and obstructive sleep apnea,” she says.

While it’s important for those with severe or persistent allergy symptoms to see a physician, there are also steps anyone can take to reduce seasonal allergies, such as:

Eat a healthy diet, rich in vitamin-packed fruits and vegetables: “Having a diet that is high in fat, especially saturated fat, and high in cholesterol, simple sugars and processed foods has been linked to developing allergic conditions, including seasonal allergies,” Dr. Anderson says.

Reduce exposure to allergy triggers: Stay indoors and keep the windows closed on dry, windy days when pollen counts are high.

Use over-the-counter nasal sprays before allergy season begins, if possible: This can be tricky in California, where warm temperatures mean allergy season can stretch from late January to late October. “Starting your treatment before the allergy season will make a big difference,” Dr. Anderson says. “You really do want to use your nasal sprays — which are the best and most effective option — about one to two weeks before the season starts.” But with the season already underway, it’s still important to use these medications to ease allergy symptoms, as they help reduce inflammation in nasal passages.

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