Climate-Amped Allergy Season Makes for a Gross Office Environment

May 24, 2023

Is it allergies, Covid, or climate?

Recommend Zyrtec, and supporting clean energy development.

Wall Street Journal:

The most miserable allergy season in recent memory is filling offices with a symphony of coughs, sniffles and sneezes. 

The pollen has tormented employees—and any co-workers within earshot—as they constantly sniffle and interrupt presentations and meetings with coughing and sneezing fits.

Samantha Santos, a 35-year-old New Yorker, said she runs into her office bathroom sometimes to hide her coughing attacks.

“Coughing and sneezing is so not office etiquette,” said Santos, the chief of staff for a team of real-estate agents. She had to mute herself on a call with an apartment renter this spring because she couldn’t stop coughing.

After her coughs subside, she said she follows a new norm in a Covid-19 world: reassuring her co-workers she isn’t contagious. She keeps a stockpile of Covid tests at home and takes one whenever she feels sick. “Don’t worry,” she tells colleagues. “I just took a test.” 

Doctors said seasonal allergies started early this year because the mild winter made trees release pollen ahead of schedule. Pollen levels vary across the country but typically peak from April to June. A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2021 found that the North American pollen season starts earlier and lasts longer than it did in 1990, with higher concentrations of pollen.

Pilar Williams, a 42-year-old insurance contractor in Chicago, said her allergy symptoms often flare up on her morning walk to the train. She gets a runny nose and itchy eyes, but there is one thing that helps, she said: She has eyelash extensions and skips the mascara. 

Once she gets to work, she has to deal with everyone else’s allergies. “Especially because of the whole Covid situation, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, cover your mouth,’ ” Williams said. If she hears someone coughing near the office printer, she added, she will wipe it down.

“I think I’ve always been a little bit extra when it comes to people coughing and sneezing in the office,” she said, “but after Covid, it puts you on edge. Like, who wants to be sick?”

Flying cough droplets are giving workers another reason to work from home. Return-to-office plans have stalled in the U.S., and many companies have settled into hybrid work models.

Bill Edwards, a 50-year old New Yorker, said he goes into the office every day. He has started work calls lately by assuring his colleagues he just has allergies. “It’s hard to disguise that you’re not feeling some sort of symptoms when your voice goes out,” said Edwards, an executive vice president at a real-estate company.

He said he has been chugging water to soothe his throat. “People might think I have a water problem,” he said.

Wall Street Journal:

Dr. Rochadiat, an observant Muslim, had been feeling fatigued for about a week before waking up early one morning in April to eat before beginning the daily Ramadan fast and noticing her nose was running. She has been taking Claritin to manage the continuing symptoms, including itchy, puffy eyelids, and says she’s had to interrupt class lectures to pause and clear her nose. 

“It tickles and it’s annoying,” she says. “I just wanted it to end.”

Some research suggests that pollen season has been starting at earlier dates and sticking around for a longer stretch. The North American pollen season starts an average of 20 days earlier and lasts for 10 days longer now than it did in 1990, according to research published in 2021 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers used National Allergy Bureau data from 60 pollen-count stations across the U.S. and Canada, which collect airborne pollen samples, and compared it with data on temperature, precipitation and CO2 levels in those areas.

“We looked at: As temperatures turn up in any given city, do you tend to see more pollen on average?” says William Anderegg, who co-wrote the research and directs the Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy at the University of Utah. The researchers found a strong link between increases in temperature and increases in pollen counts, especially in the spring when seasonal allergies typically begin, says Dr. Anderegg. 

Tree pollination typically begins in early spring, followed by grass pollination in late spring and early summer, and ragweed follows until the first frost. Warmer temperatures and rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have led to more overlap between tree and grass pollination, causing some people to experience worse symptoms than usual, researchers and allergists say, particularly in parts of the South, Northeast and Midwest.

Carbon dioxide helps pollen-emitting plants grow bigger and faster, flower more, and produce more pollen per flower, says Dr. Anderegg.

In parts of the Midwest this year, the grass began pollinating at least a month early, in April rather than its usual late May, says Jonathan A. Bernstein, president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

For mild symptoms of seasonal allergies, allergists recommend washing out your nasal passages with saline, as well as showering after spending extended time outdoors and opting for air conditioning rather than leaving windows open. Those who use neti pots should only use distilled or boiled water, says Dr. Blair. 

Prescribed under-the-tongue allergy drops or shots can help people with more severe symptoms, such as allergen-triggered asthma or sinus infections.

Allergists note that many people with symptoms never get tested or see a doctor, opting to wait it out instead.

“A lot of people are ignoring it, depending on their threshold for discomfort,” says the allergy academy’s Dr. Bernstein. “It’s an important condition that’s often trivialized, but it really does need to be diagnosed and managed properly.”

FYI, I grew up with bad seasonal allergies, got big relief when I cut out dairy (occasional pizza night cheat). Zyrtec works.
Also, I love my Neti Pot, but do take the warnings about distilled or boiled water seriously, people occasionally contract fatal infections from brain-eating amoebas – which, btw, are also being exacerbated by climate change.


One Response to “Climate-Amped Allergy Season Makes for a Gross Office Environment”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Although I’ve successfully snorted salt water out of glass to clean my sinuses, I find a syringe is a more controlled way to shoot saline up my nose for sinus lavage. (Fantastic for instantaneous relief of sinus headache.)

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