British Columbia

Hay fever symptoms arriving earlier says B.C. doctor

Spring is right around the corner but allergy season may have already arrived for some, according to allergy doctors.

Not only are people experiencing allergy symptoms earlier, but more people are experiencing allergies overall

Experts say that the warm Canadian winter could lead to an earlier onset of seasonal allergies. (iStock)

Spring is right around the corner but allergy season may have already arrived for some, according to allergy doctors.

Mild winters such as the ones Lower Mainland residents have seen in recent years mean trees bloom earlier in the year, giving people something to sniffle about as early as February, according to Dr. Joanne Yeung, a pediatric allergist.

"We're still holding our breath to find out what is really going to be the new norm, but for sure in the last 5 years we're seeing a trend toward a February start instead of a March start." 

People who suffer from severe allergies and don't find relief with over-the-counter allergy medicine can see an allergist who can identify triggers and design a targeted treatment said Yeung.

Which pollen are you allergic to?

Tree pollens are responsible for the first spike in allergy season, said Yeung. Those allergic to tree pollen may mistake their allergy symptoms as cold symptoms since trees are blooming earlier and earlier, but Yeung says one way to tell the difference is to note any itchiness in the eyes. Usually that means it's hay fever and not a cold.

Tree pollens die down around May, and that's when grass pollen takes over, said Yeung.

"So in May and June, people who like to play soccer and golf … will experience symptoms at that point."

Weed pollen makes an appearance around July, but is more prevalent in other parts of B.C., according to Yeung.

The 'allergic march'

More people are experiencing allergic reactions than ever before, said Yeung — part of a 50 year trend that has sped up in the last 10 or 20 yeard. Doctors call it the Atopic March.

"Kids who are at increased risk of other condition such as eczema and food allergies early on, seem to march forward with the years to develop asthma and allergic rhinitis or hay fever," said Yeung.

Some experts say this march is caused by overzealous hygiene practices in the developed world, which means babies are less exposed to bugs and allergens early in life.

"That hygienic environment is probably setting us up for (fewer) infections early on, but certainly being more prone to overactive to common things, and so called harmless things, earlier on in life," said Yeung.

To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Why allergy season is earlier this year.


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