Spending time outdoors is a useful way to fight cabin fever, something many of us are dealing with right now as our lives have changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being outside reduces the transmission of the virus because of the constant movement of air, and it is often easier to socially distance than it is indoors. However, more time outdoors is not so pleasant for the nearly 19 million Americans who suffer from allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever.
Every spring, summer and fall, I have patients in my clinic concerned about their pollen allergies. Many have noticed that their symptoms are starting earlier in the year and seemingly getting worse. There are multiple reasons for this constellation of symptoms — runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing — to progress. One of those reasons is most certainly climate change, and we see this every season.
Anyone who suffers from seasonal allergies is affected by global warming, which extends the freeze-free season. This is the season exempt from frost, when plants are able to grow. What this means for patients is that allergy symptoms often start earlier in the year and last longer. Compared to 1970, the growing season in New York City has increased by 21 days; in Washington, D.C., by 17 days; and in Atlanta by 27 days, according to Climate Central, an independent organization of leading scientists and journalists that study and report on the impacts of climate change. For those dealing with daily allergy symptoms, each additional week affects their quality of life at home, and also their performance at work and school. For some parts of the U.S., the increase in the growing season is more than one month long, and the number of days is only projected to increase with time as global warming continues.
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