Ragweed, pollen, dust, mold. If you’re an allergy sufferer, chances are you can easily recite a litany of the things in your environment that make you feel, sneezy, wheezy, itchy, watery, and generally miserable. But have you ever noticed that you feel better or worse depending on how the weather is outside?
You probably already know that frigid weather doesn’t cause the common cold, but the weather can play a big role in the severity of allergy symptoms, putting the “seasonal” in seasonal allergies.
Here’s a look at how weather events impact allergies:
As the weather turns cooler in autumn, many outdoor allergens pop up, including ragweed and mold spores outside in piles of wet leaves. Inside, as we turn on the heat for the season, the dust mites that have been building up inside unused heating ducts all summer come pouring into our homes (so be sure to clean those before firing up your furnace for the season). The arrival of winter, though, can cause most allergy sufferers to breathe a sigh of relief. The cold, crisp, dry air of winter is great for keeping allergens at bay, and the low-pressure systems that allow the cold air in also help bad air to move along faster. Unfortunately, cold air itself can sometimes be an irritant for those with asthma.
It’s no coincidence that air quality warnings are most common in the heat of high summer. On hot days, sunlight reacts with oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds emitted by vehicles, construction equipment, and other industrial sources to create ground level ozone, more commonly known as “smog.” And during high-pressure fronts, which bring on the warm, sunny weather, the air stagnates and literally thickens. Smog can be incredibly dangerous for those with asthma. For those with mold or dust allergies, though, hot, dry weather can feel like heaven, keeping these irritants at bay.
Mold spores and dust mites love humidity. The wetter the better. If you live in an area that tends to become humid, chances are summer isn’t your favorite season.
The relationship between the rain and allergies is best summed up by that well-known two-word turn of phrase: “It’s complicated.” A good, hard rainstorm can bring relief to some allergy sufferers by “cleaning”pollen from the air. Falling raindrops collect free-flying pollen particles and bring them down to Earth, where they can’t wreak as much havoc. Relief may be short-lived, though, because frequent wet weather causes the trees and grass to grow and produce even more pollen. Rainy weather also creates the perfect conditions for mold spores and dust mites to thrive, offering no relief to those who are sensitive to those allergens.
No matter what kind of allergy you have, chances are windy days make it worse. Pollen, mold, dust, and dander are all harmless on the ground. These irritants need to be up in the air, where they can get into your nose, eyes, and lungs, to cause problems. Wind serves as the perfect vehicle, picking up these minuscule particles and whipping them around into the air for you to breathe in.
If you’ve been dealing with seasonal allergies for many years, you already know there’s nothing you can do about the change of seasons or the weather. And hiding out in a hermetically sealed bubble until the weather shifts doesn’t leave much room for enjoying the good things in life. Fortunately, forewarned is forearmed.
Knowing that certain kinds of weather make you feel terrible just means you need to pay extra attention to weather forecasts, pollen and mold counts, and air quality warnings. Take precautions by staying inside and closing windows on particularly bad days, and use an air conditioner and dehumidifier to keep the air in your house healthy (just be sure to clean the vents and change the filters frequently). Keep your home clean to curb the growth of mold spores and dust mites.
Ask your doctor about getting your allergy shots or prescriptions a few weeks before you expect to experience symptoms. Flooding your system with allergy-fighters can keep symptoms at bay before they begin, making them easier to manage throughout the season.
Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.