Yes, allergies are worse than normal in JoCo this year — Here’s why

Trees can be pretty in the spring, but their blooms' pollen can also cause misery for allergy sufferers. File photo.

If you suffer form seasonal allergies, you might have noticed a stuffier nose, itchier eyes and bigger sneezes this spring. 

As it turns out, you’re not imagining things. 

Allergy season is worse than normal this year and, in fact, has gradually been getting more bothersome, local expert say.

And it’s attributable, at least in part, to climate change.

Due to warmer temperatures and increased pollen production, fall and spring allergies are occurring for longer periods of time each season and are affecting sufferers more intensely.

Here’s what you need to know:

Why it’s happening

One contributing factor to a more severe allergy season is an increase in “growing days” for plant pollen. 

Dennis Patton, horticulturalist agent at the K-State Johnson County Research and Extension Office, said this can partly be attributed to a gradual warming of the climate. 

“One thing we’re seeing is just longer periods where pollen allergens can be an issue,” Patton said. “It kind of wears down defenses, you know, and there’s only so much you can tolerate before symptoms start to appear.” 

For example, last fall didn’t have its first hard frost until the end of October. Patton said this leaves more time for ragweed to stick around.

In the spring, warmer temperatures earlier in the season — including the summer-like days last week that saw temperatures in the 90s multiple days — leaves more time for plant pollen to grow. 

“The longer we’re exposed to it, the more issues we can have,” he said.

Humidity and wind also factors

Another contributing factor is humidity.

With increased rain, Patton said extended wet periods can cause more mold spore growth, which can take a toll in the same way pollen can.

Windier days can also stir dust, mold and pollen around more than usual. 

“That’s another piece to the puzzle,” he said. “The more the (wind) stirs up all these pollens, molds and things, they blow around in the atmosphere.”

Masking actually helped during pandemic

For Kansas, the worst of allergies tend to pop up during ragweed season in the fall and then again when tree pollen increases in the spring. 

Over the last year with pandemic-related masking, some Kansans might not have noticed as severe of allergies as they normally would because they’re faces were covered. 

But now that we’re more exposed to the outside elements with less masking, Patton said allergies are making a return. With a vengeance, in some cases. 

“I think that those masks filtered out the pollen and the pollutants that caused allergies,” he said. “Now that people are back to ‘normal’, they may be having more symptoms than they had the last couple of years.” 

What can help

People with severe allergies can take measures to make them more bearable, such as using over-the-counter medications.

They can also keep doors and windows closed when possible and make a point to change clothes after being outside for a long time.