May 15, 2023 - Climate

Nothing to sneeze at: Allergy season in the Twin Cities is getting longer

Length of allergy season in Minneapolis
Data: Climate Central; Chart: Alice Feng/Axios

The itchy eyes, sneezes and scratchy throats many Minnesotans are experiencing this spring are causing extended misery due to a longer — and stronger — local allergy season.

Driving the discomfort: Allergy season in Minneapolis increased by an average of 34 days between 1970 and 2021, per an analysis from Climate Central, a nonprofit climate news organization.

  • That's more than twice the average of about 200 U.S. cities.

The big picture: The trend, which experts say is tied to climate change, has big health ramifications for the roughly one-quarter of Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies — and for respiratory health more broadly.

What's happening: "Earlier spring and longer periods of freeze-free days mean that plants have more time to flower and release allergy-inducing pollen," per Climate Central.

  • From 1990 to 2018, pollen counts increased by 21% nationwide, with the greatest growth in the Midwest and Texas, according to a 2021 study, Axios' Arielle Dreher reports.

What they're saying: Pramod Kelkar, a medical doctor and allergist with Allina Health, told Axios that he's observed the local peak period for allergies get "longer and also more severe," noting that higher carbon dioxide levels also push up the pollen count.

  • "I have been in practice for more than 20 years, and every year we are seeing that more and more allergy sufferers are coming to the clinic," he said, estimating that the average season now lasts five weeks.

Zoom in: Kelkar is seeing more adults who didn't experience symptoms as children seek treatment now.

  • That could be due to people having a higher threshold for pollen sensitivity that's now being triggered by those elevated levels.

Between the lines: A rapid shift between cold weather and hot, dry, windy days — like what we saw in April's brief heat wave — can make symptoms more noticeable for sufferers, he noted.

The good news: A longer allergy season doesn't have to lead to more misery. Shots, nasal sprays and over-the-counter medications can all provide relief.

  • "Don't deny yourself the pleasure of the outdoors," Kelkar said. "Because there are so many excellent treatment options available."

Go deeper: Allergy season is getting longer and worse


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