Pollen season is starting earlier and lasting longer than in past decades, and climate change is a factor, according to experts at the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).

Changes in the climate during that time period contribute to this phenomenon, with warmer temperatures, longer growing seasons and decreased air quality. As a result, people with allergies and asthma, and their healthcare providers, need to adjust their management plans accordingly.

New research from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture shows that “pollen seasons start 20 days earlier, are 10 days longer, and feature 21% more pollen than in 1990.”

“It’s a pretty simple equation,” says allergist Kathleen May, ACAAI president. “More pollen means more days of suffering with asthma and allergy symptoms. People across the country are aware they need to start allergy and asthma medications sooner, because symptoms arrive earlier and stay longer. As allergists, we’re watching our patients sneezing, wheezing and dripping more. But we have the tools to help.”

May is Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, a time to shine a spotlight on asthma and allergies, along with the latest news and important developments. Many people don’t know that allergists are experts in treating asthma, and that nasal allergies and asthma are closely linked. Allergists are specialists who can help get asthma symptoms under control.

If you have a pollen allergy and breathe in pollen-heavy air, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy throat and eyes
  • Wheezing

Pollen can also aggravate asthma symptoms, including increased coughing and wheezing. Allergists recommend avoiding pollen if you have allergic reactions.

Two immunotherapy options are available for those with severe pollen allergies:

  • Allergy shots can help your body become less sensitive to pollens.
  • Tablets that dissolve under the tongue are now available by prescription for people suffering from grass and ragweed allergies. These medications must be started 12 weeks before symptoms are expected to begin.

Nasal allergies and asthma are connected, and many people suffer from both. Allergic asthma – where allergies are triggers for asthma symptoms – is the most common type of asthma. Research shows the frequency of children with nasal allergies who also have asthma can be as high as 80 percent. Recent research has also shown that about 75 percent of adults aged 20-40 with asthma have at least one allergy.

“What many people don’t realize is that the same things that trigger your seasonal “hay fever” symptoms – things like pollen, dust mites, mold and pet dander – can also cause asthma symptoms,” says Dr. May. “If you have allergies, and you are wheezing or coughing, an allergist can determine if you also have asthma. Allergists are specialists at treating asthma and can put together a treatment plan to help you deal with both conditions.”