Weather could worsen allergies
Ragweed season is hanging on a little longer than normal this fall, and so are the sneezes, sniffles and other symptoms suffered by those allergic to the plant — at least according to a local allergist.
“We’ve seen a fairly bad pollen season,” said Dr. Kenneth Backman, chief of Bridgeport Hospital’s allergy section.
Backman said the recent run of unseasonably warm temperatures helped extend ragweed season, which typically starts in mid-August and is done by the end of September.
“Usually, by now ragweed season is done, but the warm weather prolonged it a bit. We’re looking at maybe another week or two,” he said.
That’s translated into a bump in patients with ragweed allergy symptoms, Backman said, particularly asthma. “We’ve seen quite a bit of that,” he said.
Allergies happen when the body’s immune system mistakes a substance for something harmful and overreacts to it. Allergy symptoms can include sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, watery or itchy eyes and other conditions. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children in the United States have allergies.
The foundation reports that 10 to 20 percent of Americans suffer from an allergy to ragweed, a weed that grows throughout the country, but is particularly common in Eastern and Midwestern states. One plant can produce up to 1 billion pollen grains. About 75 percent of people who are allergic to pollen are also allergic to ragweed.
It’s true that growing seasons have gotten longer in recent years, which might have some impact on allergies, said Wade Elmer, chief scientist in the department of plant pathology and ecology at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. But he said another possible factor is the drought that’s recently hit the state.
“During droughts, plants are stressed, and when plants are stressed, they tend to reproduce” and spread pollen, Elmer said.
However, another local doctor said what he’s seeing isn’t out of the norm for the fall allergy season.
“I would say we’ve seen our usual fall bump,” said Dr. Mitchell Lester, an allergist and immunologist at Fairfield County Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Associates. The practice has offices in Norwalk, Greenwich, Stamford and Ridgefield.
He said he wasn’t aware of a prolonged ragweed season, and has noticed that pollen counts haven’t been abnormally high. Still, he observed, “there are people out there who have very significant symptoms even when the pollen counts aren’t that high.”
Even Backman said, despite the recent bump in activity, this fall allergy season still isn’t as rough as a typical spring allergy season. “Spring always tends to be very intense,” he said.
Pollen on a ragweed plant.