Dry weather and high temperatures seem to have made a lot of things worse – this past winter’s ski season, a possibly dismal raft season and an impending water shortage for farmers and ranchers.
So why would it be any different with allergies?
“It looks pretty bad,” said Dr. Donald Cooke of Allergy Asthma Specialists.
Over the past few months, Southwest Colorado has endured one of the lowest snowpack years, nearly no rain and unseasonably warm weather, and now finds itself in an “exceptional drought.”
While the lack of precipitation is sure to have ripple effects in all walks of life, Cooke said the combination of dry weather, higher temperatures and high winds makes for insufferable conditions for those prone to allergies.
Every year, the allergy season works in cycles: Juniper, cedar and poplar pollens start spreading in early spring, grass season peaks in June, and then weed allergies finish the afflicted off from August to October.
Cooke said pollen is spread more efficiently when conditions are dry and winds are high – the conditions that have defined Southwest Colorado in the past couple of weeks.
“When you’re dry and windy, you see more efficient movement of the pollen,” Cooke said. “And then the lack of moisture really factors into that.”
Cooke said the pollens are on time this year, with the major springtime allergens – juniper, cedar and poplar – pretty high in recent days, resulting in busy days at the office.
“I’m looking outside right now, and with that wind, you can see the pollen coming off the trees,” Cooke said.
Cooke said the severity of allergy season going into summer will depend on how the next few months play out precipitation-wise.
He said it’s possible that if no rain comes to the area, grass allergies may be significantly reduced.
“If farmers can’t get enough water to grow hay, that (allergy) may be minimal,” he said.
Cooke was quick to note that other allergies such as desert trees, tumbleweeds and sagebrush are more drought-tolerant, and as a result, their allergy seasons are likely not to be affected.
Overall, Cooke said that allergies are on the rise in the U.S., likely a result of people’s immune systems not having other ailments, such as infections, to deal with.
Another way to put it, because people in the U.S. live in cleaner environments, their immune systems focus on allergies. It’s called the “hygiene hypothesis,” he said.
Studies have shown that people who live and work on farms, for instance, are less prone to allergies than people who live in cities, he said.
And in places like sub-Saharan Africa, Cooke said, people basically don’t have allergies. Instead, their immune systems are busy battling deadly diseases.
Cooke said he would much rather take the stuffy nose and runny eyes associated with allergies.
“The life expectancy in those countries is much lower than ours,” he said.
For those who can’t survive allergy season with over-the-counter medication, Cooke said allergy specialists offer a number of other treatment methods that aim to tackle symptoms.