British Columbia

Allergy season has hit in B.C. and these are some tips to help you cope this spring.

B.C. immunologist, Dr. Ross Chang, on how to tell if the culprit is COVID-19 or pollen and what might help some allergy sufferers get through this spring.

Studies show climate change is causing season to start earlier and last longer

Allergy season is here and studies show it is coming earlier and staying later due to climate change. (pixabay)

In the midst of a pandemic, the pollen has already started swirling in British Columbia and as seasonal allergy sufferers start to experience symptoms, it can be hard for people to tell if they have been hit with hay fever or the novel coronavirus.

B.C. immunologist Dr. Ross Chang, a seasonal allergy sufferer himself, said the pollen count in the province is high now and he spoke to CBC's Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC's On The Coast, about how to differentiate between COVID-19 symptoms and allergies, and how to cope with the latter.

"They are often hard to tell apart," said Chang.

He said if a patient develops a fever, it is more likely a sign that they have a viral infection than an allergy. In addition to a fever, muscle aches or a cough could also be indicative of COVID-19 and Chang suggests anyone with these symptoms consult their physician and consider getting tested.

The common symptoms for allergies include itchy, red eyes and a runny nose, although Chang said some people can suffer from more severe symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath.

And unfortunately, studies show that allergy season in North America is starting earlier, and lasting longer, due to climate change.

Allergy season getting longer

Across the United States and Canada, pollen season is starting 20 days earlier and pollen loads are 21 per cent higher since 1990 and a huge chunk of that is because of global warming, according to a study published in February in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

While other studies have shown North America's allergy season getting longer and worse, this is the most comprehensive data with 60 reporting stations and the first to make the required and detailed calculations that could attribute what's happening to human-caused climate change, experts said.

The warmer the Earth gets, the earlier spring starts for plants and animals, especially those that release pollen.  

How to cope

Chang says there are two types of over-the-counter antihistamines that can help. 

He said Benadryl can be effective but can also make people drowsy. Newer ones like Reactine and Claritin are less likely to make a user drowsy, but can be more expensive.

If those don't help, Chang recommends reaching out to a health-care provider who can write a prescription for stronger antihistamines, as well as nasal sprays or eye drops.

Ultimately, said Chang, staying inside with the windows closed and an air filter on is the best way to keep your eyes from itching and your nose from dripping this spring.

LISTEN | Dr. Ross Chang on coping with seasonal allergies:

Dr. Ross Chang, an allergist and immunologist, shares some advice on how people with seasonal allergies should respond to their symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. 5:59

With files from On The Coast, The Associated Press

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