Chicago, IL

No, it's not your imagination, spring allergy season in Chicago really is worse this year

Jennifer Geer

Find out how climate change is making allergy season longer and more severe

Does it feel like you're reaching for your allergy meds earlier and earlier each year and needing them longer and longer into the season? If so, you're not alone.

According to weather experts, allergy season in Chicago has been starting earlier, lasting longer, and containing more pollen. It grows worse each year, and it's happening all over the world.

What is Chicago's allergy forecast for 2021?

According to Accuweather's allergy forecast for 2021, Chicago is having one of the worse tree-allergy seasons in the country.

They also say we could be in for trouble with grass pollen, although the report doesn't specify Chicago. However, it does mention the nearby locations of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio.

Today, the Weather Channel reports tree pollen is high in Chicago, though grass and ragweed are at low levels. According to the University of Chicago Medicine, our allergy season generally follows this pattern:

  • March to May: tree pollen
  • May to June: grass
  • August to September: weeds
  • June to October: mold

However, climate change appears to be lengthening the allergy season and causing more pollen to be in the air.

How does climate change affecting allergy season?

A recent study from Germany looks at how climate change is affecting the growing season. Warmer temperatures are causing plants to bloom earlier, and pollen from these early-blooming regions can travel through the air to later-blooming locations. Meaning, even if plants aren't blooming yet in your area, you can still suffer from pollen allergies.

The reason for more severe allergy seasons comes from increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere combining with warmer temperatures. The growing season has been extended, and more airborne pollen over longer times means trouble for allergy sufferers.

Climate change is leading to more severe allergies as the allergy seaon is longer and there is more pollen in the air.

It could be worse

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) annual report, Chicago is not as bad as other locations around the country when it comes to allergies. The city is not even in the top 50. Out of 100 allergy capitals, Chicago is ranked number 64 and considered "average" compared to other locations.

In case you're interested, the top 10 most challenging cities according to the AAFA for allergy sufferers are:

  1. Scranton, PA
  2. Richmond, VA
  3. Wichita, KS
  4. McAllen, TX
  5. Pittsburgh, PA
  6. Hartford, CT
  7. Springfield, MA
  8. New Haven, CT
  9. Oklahoma City, OK
  10. Bridgeport, CT

Although it may be reassuring not to be at the top of this list, unfortunately, climate change is affecting allergies no matter where you live.

According to the AAFA report, "Both spring and fall pollen has increasingly gotten worse every year with longer, warmer growing seasons caused by climate change. These seasons produce stronger pollen at higher quantities."

Why it matters

You may think seasonal allergies are no big deal. That it just means dealing with a little case of the sniffles. But if you're one of the 50 million Americans suffering from the effects of allergies, you know how challenging it can be. Treating allergies in the U.S. costs over $18 billion and it's the 6th leading cause of chronic illness.

Additionally, allergy symptoms often overlap with Covid-19 symptoms, making it difficult to know if you're suffering from seasonal allergies or the virus.

One tell-tale sign is that allergies typically don't cause a fever, while Covid-19 and other illnesses do. Allergies will generally cause itchy eyes and sneezing. While Covid-19 can cause body aches and digestive issues.
Infographic: Venn diagram of the overlap of COVID-19 symptoms with seasonal allergy symptoms(CDC)

How to manage seasonal allergies

According to Chicago-based Bliss Medicine, there are some steps you can take to manage your allergies.

  • Take over-the-counter allergy medication. You may want to try a steroid nasal spray, like Flonase. These sprays reduce inflammation in your nose, and many allergy sufferers have found relief with them.
  • Keep track of pollen counts and stay indoors when it's high. Also, keep your windows closed on high-pollen days and use air conditioning if needed.
  • Clean your house. People and pets can track pollen into your house. Vacuuming and dusting often can help remove allergens from your home.

If over-the-counter medicines aren't doing the trick, it's probably time to call the doctor. An allergist can narrow down what you're allergic to and help you find the answer to getting relief.

If you're suffering from allergies, the time to get help is now. The global temperature is continuing to rise with no signs of stopping. The Chicago allergy season is only going to get worse over time.

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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area.

Chicago, IL

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