Should you be afraid of the pollen vortex?


Allergy sufferers be warned: After a particularly harsh winter, experts are predicting that Canadians might be in for a challenging summer when it comes to seasonal allergies. The term “pollen vortex” has been generating some buzz and creating fear among allergy sufferers. We turned to Dr. Gordon Sussman, specialist in allergy and immunology from the University of Toronto, to find out what the pollen vortex is all about, and what allergy sufferers can do about it.

What is the pollen vortex?

The pollen vortex is an expression that has been circulating after what was described as the “polar vortex” this past winter. Some reports have suggested that the length of the winter season this year has led to an intense burst of pollen in a short amount of time. Sometimes, after a cold winter and spring, all the tree pollen may be released simultaneously, resulting in more extreme pollen seasons. However, the length of the tree pollen season has not significantly changed in recent years.

Will more people be affected by seasonal allergies this year?

Depending on the pollen counts, there may be more people suffering from allergies. The seasonal exposures occur from early spring to late fall. Symptoms can be severely disabling and limit sleep, work and overall productivity.

How can people step up their usual defences against allergies in light of this year’s conditions?

If you have severe seasonal allergies, the best thing to do is to see an allergist. There are also a variety of products available at the pharmacy that people can turn to for relief from their allergy symptoms. Non-sedating, non-impairing antihistamines can be safely taken long-term. It is better to begin taking them before the allergy season and continue until the season is over. Other safe treatments are anti-allergy nasal sprays and eye drops. Your physician should help you choose what is best for you.

Is the answer just to stay inside? How can allergy sufferers enjoy the outdoors?

Pollens are light, airborne and can travel for miles. But people have to breathe, and they also deserve to be able to go outside. Of course you can try to avoid the outdoors, keep your windows closed and turn on the air conditioning. Or you could stay inside in the morning, when pollen counts are highest. But if you want to go outside, you might consider taking an antihistamine 30 minutes before going out. If your allergies are severe, you should talk to a specialist about your options before you spend the summer season indoors.

Are there any lesser-known ways to defend against pollen?

Allergen immunotherapy can be done by injection or in some cases by taking a tablet. It works by introducing the specific allergen to the individual so that, over time, the person develops a degree of tolerance. Allergen immunotherapy is a safe long-term treatment for environmental or inhaled allergies.

Learn five natural ways to deal with seasonal allergies.

(Photography: WikiCommons/ForestWander)