Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Was this an especially bad allergy season?

Was this an especially bad allergy season? It was for me. The important question, however, is why.

Some background: I learned that I have seasonal allergies during the first and only time I attended summer day camp at age 6, when my eyes swelled up so badly I couldn't see. Needless to say, my parents never let me return to camp.

My allergies continued to worsen each year. As a young adult in 1995, I decided to begin allergy shots after meeting a woman whose sinuses had collapsed due to allergy problems. When I first began the shots (four of them, weekly, for trees, grass, mold and dust mites, respectively), I was told that I needed to continue the weekly shots for six months, switch to monthly shots for another six months, and then I'd be done.

It never happened that way. First, I was never able to have shots as infrequently as once a month; rather, I was reduced to every other week. Second, after a year I was told that I needed to receive the shots for five years. At five years, I was told that I needed the shots for 7 years. At seven years, I was told that now the science was recommending that people receive allergy shots for 10 to 15 years, or else one's allergies would return.

At that point, I couldn't stand the thought of continuing to receive four shots every other week for another three to eight years (and always having to miss some work in the process). In addition, my allergies had drastically improved until they were practically non-existent.

It's now been 15 years since I first started the shots, and eight years since I ended them. During my first summer in Washington, 2008, I had no allergy symptoms. Last summer, I had very mild symptoms. This year, however, my allergies fiercely returned. The question is why. Here are some possible reasons:

1) Geography. I moved in 2008 from Boston to Washington. The shots I received were created to help build my tolerance to local pollens in Boston. There are no doubt pollinating plants here in Washington that I never received shots for. This may help explain why my allergies returned only moderately last year--the local clime has taken time to affect me. In addition, during my basically allergy-free years, I took a few trips home to Ohio in June (usually to attend a relative's graduation), and there I would experience symptoms that I didn't have in Boston.

2) The allergist was right. In other words, I needed 15 years of allergy shots to ensure my immunity. Either 15 years was indeed the length that the shots would last, or the eight years that I've been off the shots now override the seven years I was on.

3) Global warming/climate change. One of the likely consequences of climate change is that we will have much longer growing seasons. Longer growing seasons = longer periods of time for plants to pollinate. Prior to my allergy shots, my allergies primarily affected me during May and June. This year, for the first time ever, my allergies started in April and only this week, the last of July, have they subsided. If climate change is the culprit, this doesn't bode well for the future for the many of us who suffer from allergies.

What do you think? Obviously, I'm one person, and my anecdotes are not data. I'd like to hear from others. If you are an allergy sufferer, were your allergies worse this year? If so, do you have any thoughts about why?


  1. First of all, I wanted to say thank you for posting all of these helpful DIY tips and observations. I really appreciate it, and I can't wait to try to make my own deodorant in particular! :) I’m thankful that there are so many people committed to improving the environment and the state of the world by taking these steps and using fewer resources.

    Regarding this post in particular, I can only respond to your anecdote with another anecdote, which is that since moving to New York City in 2006, I have had severe allergies every summer that were previously minimal or non-existent in other cities. I have had sinus infections both this summer and last summer that lasted more than two weeks. And I will agree with you that this summer seemed especially bad for me personally. There were several nights that I woke up unable to breathe, or I would be sitting in my office in the middle of the day when suddenly I’d realize I was breathing through my mouth, unable to inhale through either nostril. I would love to be able to blame it on the pollution here, but I honestly just don’t know what it is. I’m sorry you’ve been having such a bad allergies, too!

  2. So I'm not the only one! Thanks for sharing.