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4 reasons why climate change is making your fall allergies worse

Whether you've suffered from allergies for ages or recently started developing symptoms, it can feel as if allergy season is getting worse each year. It's not just you — experts say climate change is leading to a slew of factors that raise the risk of not only having allergy symptoms, but experiencing intense signs of allergies.

"Climate change isn't going away, allergies are not going away, and it only seems to be getting worse each year," Dr. Tania Elliott, allergist, immunologist and chief medical officer at Nectar Allergy, tells Yahoo Life. There are several reasons why climate change is making your allergies worse. Experts break it down.

Does it feel like your allergies have been getting worse? Climate change could be the reason why.
Does it feel like your allergies have been getting worse? Climate change could be the reason why. Screengrab from Summer Friday.

Allergy seasons are longer than they've been in the past

You've probably heard people complain about allergy symptoms getting worse on an annual basis for years, and there's a good reason for that. "Climate change is causing longer and more intense allergy seasons," Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, tells Yahoo Life. "In fact, over the last 30 years, allergy seasons have gotten longer by close to 20 days."

Allergy seasons have historically been in the spring and fall, but now stretch over even longer periods. "For fall allergy season, we're actually seeing it bleed into what we would historically call the winter months," Elliott says. "People that are fall allergy sufferers are suffering for a longer period of time." Some may have symptoms into November and December, she says.

Air pollution is getting worse

Studies have linked air pollution to more intense symptoms, and, unfortunately, air pollution is getting worse, thanks to factors like forest fires and higher temperatures, which lead to smog.

"Pollution is a major factor when it comes to seasonal allergies," Elliott says. "Pollen can actually bind to pollutants in the air." One example she cites: Pollen and diesel exhaust can create a "super pollen" that's able to stay suspended in the air longer and travel further. "Now pollen can travel 50 to 100 miles," Elliott says. "That means you end up with more symptoms, no matter where you live."

Temperatures are rising

July was the world's hottest month on record, and it's not a one-off. Temperatures have been steadily rising for years. "Climate change is impacting geographical areas differently," Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist with the Allergy and Asthma Network, tells Yahoo Life. "Areas that typically had milder allergy seasons, now we're having much more severe allergy seasons, due to rising temperatures or extremes in weather."

Urban areas also can create what's known as "urban heat islands," where the average temperature is about three to four degrees higher than it is in nonurban areas, Mendez says. "It makes things even warmer, so the allergy season starts a lot sooner. There's additional carbon dioxide and ozone, and that supercharges the releases of pollen. So people in the cities actually feel more intense allergy seasons because of these urban heat islands."

Extreme weather keeps happening

Climate change is causing extreme weather, including skyrocketing temperatures, forest fires and floods. "We're seeing more and more extreme weather," Elliott says. "You're also seeing more high heats and wildfires — now we're talking about more air pollution."

Fall is prime time for mold from leaves that fall from trees — and high winds and hurricanes can whip up that mold, triggering asthma and allergies in the process, Mendez says.

What to do about it

You don't need to silently suffer through allergy season. Experts say there are a few things you can do to get relief, even as you're exposed to more allergens.

  • Time your medication. "If you know a particular season is a bad one for you, I always recommend to my patients to start your preventative medications early," Parikh says. If you're a fall allergy sufferer, for example, Elliott recommends starting your medication in early August.

  • Know how long your medication takes to work. Different types of medication have different mechanisms. "The most important thing to remember is that the nasal steroid sprays take about five to seven days to kick in, and they prevent allergy symptoms from occurring," Elliott says. "Antihistamines kick in within 12 to 24 hours."

  • Be mindful of your time outdoors. If your allergens are outside, Parikh recommends avoiding exercising outdoors during peak pollen times, which include early morning. You also risk bringing those allergens inside when you've been outdoors, Elliott says. "You want to make sure that you change your clothes as soon as you come into the home," she says. "Don't wear shoes in the house and, if possible, shower in the evenings to wash off any pollen that's gotten in your hair."

  • Close your windows. Opening your windows allows pollen and other allergens to waft into your home, where they can make you miserable. So keep your windows closed and run your air conditioner instead.

  • Reconsider your use of hairspray. "Hairspray can actually cause pollen to stick to your hair," Elliott says. "You want to make sure that you wash off, instead of bringing all of that pollen into your home or into your bed."

If you're struggling with allergy symptoms, experts say it's important to talk to your doctor about next steps. You may need to get on allergy medication — or tweak your existing allergy treatment plan.