Allergists are seeing more and more people with pollen allergies – often elderly people with hay fever, which they have never had before and which comes on suddenly. The number of people allergic to pollen has increased dramatically over the past 20 years. A third of all adults are now affected.
Flying pollen affects them and triggers symptoms such as watery eyes, runny or stuffy nose, throat and skin irritation, and shortness of breath. Birch pollen is particularly unpleasant. In the spring, the trees produce them in very large numbers and the wind carries them up to 300 kilometers.
Why are pollen allergies on the rise?
Reason for the increase in allergies: The pollen season is getting longer and longer. During mild winters, the hazel sometimes blooms as early as December, instead of February or March as in the past. In addition, immigrant plants, such as ragweed, extend the pollen season from August to October. People with allergies therefore only have a rest phase of two to three months a year. This puts the body under constant stress. And newly immigrated plants like ragweed also have particularly aggressive pollen.
Climate change increases pollen count
Specialists in environmental medicine at Helmholtz Zentrum München study the effects of environmental influences on plant pollen. For them, it is clear: climate change and environmental pollution have led to more and more allergies over the past 20 years. They assume that by 2050 half the population will suffer from allergies.
Due to higher temperatures, many plants produce more pollen. Especially periods of drought, such as in the past three years, mean extreme stress for plants. To save themselves from extinction, the trees produce huge amounts of pollen after such years. And more pollen means more allergens and therefore more allergies.
Pollen becomes more aggressive
But it’s not just the amount of pollen: researchers have found that it is also becoming more aggressive due to climate change. Allergenic plants such as birches, grasses and ragweed grow in the plant rooms of the Helmholtz Institute. Light, temperature and air composition can be precisely controlled and controlled.
To study the impact of climate change, researchers exposed certain plants to heat and drought. An extract was obtained from the pollen of these plants, which contains all the proteins and biomolecules of the pollen. The researchers were able to observe that the pollen had changed: it carries different proteins from those of the pollen of unstressed plants. Because in times of stress, plants strengthen their immune system and produce special proteins that are supposed to protect them from negative environmental influences.
It is precisely these proteins to which people with pollen allergies react particularly strongly. The pollens therefore become more aggressive due to the influences of climate change and environmental pollution. In addition, human mucous membranes are constantly irritated by exhaust gases and other air pollutants. This in turn makes them more susceptible to allergies.
Relieve hay fever without medication
Anyone suspecting a pollen allergy should see a doctor. Symptoms can worsen over time and, in the worst case, lead to chronic asthma. In order to get through spring well despite hay fever and to alleviate the symptoms, a few simple actions can help.
Keep your home pollen-free
It is important to keep the pollen out of the apartment and especially the bedroom as much as possible. Because there they irritate the mucous membranes at night. The following tips are helpful:
- Do not remove street clothes in the bedroom.
- Wash your hair at night or brush it carefully so that the pollen does not spread on the pillow.
- Change sheets at least once a week.
- Keep windows closed while you sleep.
- Vacuum floors, upholstered furniture and carpets regularly. We recommend vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters, which also remove tiny airborne particles.
- Wipe furniture surfaces with a damp cloth.
- Do not dry laundry outdoors.
- Install an air purifier. The devices filter pollen and dust from the air and can thus provide relief.
Good ventilation for people allergic to pollen
When airing, allergy sufferers should follow a few rules to get as little pollen as possible into the living space. In principle, it is better to air the city in the morning, because there is a lot of pollen in the air, especially in the evening. In the countryside on the other hand, it is the opposite, there the pollen tends to fly away in the morning, it is therefore better to ventilate the room in the evening. However, this rule only describes a trend. Other factors also play a role, especially the current weather conditions, the wind and the immediate living environment, such as a flowering birch tree right outside the door. A good time to ventilate is after a downpour, as the rain washes pollen from the air.
When driving, it is better to close the windows and turn off the ventilation. Special pollen filters can also be installed.
Nasal shower and steam baths relieve symptoms
To ease symptoms, hay fever sufferers can also try rinsing pollen from their nose. There are special nasal douches for this in the pharmacy. Use it twice a day if possible. Steam baths or inhalations are also pleasant. They moisturize the mucous membranes and relieve itching. Cold compresses, such as a damp washcloth, help with red eyes and itchy skin.
Drugs and hyposensitization
If none of this brings relief, you can also resort to medication. So-called antihistamines inhibit the allergic reaction. They are available in pharmacies in the form of a nasal spray, eye drops or tablets. People with severe allergic symptoms can also think about hyposensitization, which is carried out by a specialist. With this immunotherapy, allergies can usually be successfully treated. Over a longer period, the allergen is first administered weekly, then monthly, usually by injection. The immune system has to get used to the allergen and the allergic reaction usually goes away.
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