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Seasonal allergies are annoying. Here's how climate change is affecting them

An exposed arm sits on a table with criss-cross lines numbered from one to six. A doctor with blue gloves is applying a liquid onto the arm within each block on the exposed arm.
USF Health
Allergy season can be horrible for some people. University of South Florida associate professor Farnaz Tabatabaian said genetics play a role in some people's seasonal allergies.

Allergy season lasts almost the entire year in Florida, and experts say warmer weather could extend it.

In Florida, managing seasonal allergies can be hard, especially for those who are allergic to many types of pollen.

From around January to April, certain types of wind-pollinated trees release pollen to reproduce — like pine, cedar, and oak trees. It's one of the most visible types of pollen, leaving cars, sidewalks, and window screens coated with yellow dust.

Over the summer months, other types of plants begin to release pollen, like Bermuda grass and Bahiagrass. By early fall, weeds like ragweed and goldenrod can affect seasonal allergies.

Over 100 million people nationally suffer from seasonal allergies each year, according to a 2024 report by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

The report ranks the 100 most populous cities in terms of people suffering from tree, grass, and weed pollen allergies: Sarasota ranks 13th worst, and Orlando 16th worst.

The report also highlights that "due to climate change, growing seasons start earlier and last longer than they did just 30 years ago."

And, as temperatures rise, pollen counts tend to rise as well.

University of Florida Herbarium botanist Marc Frank said there has been "tantalizing data suggesting climate change is contributing" to worsening allergy seasons.

But in reality, the year-to-year climate has been irregular, Frank said. If there is a late freeze, it can interrupt the production of the catkin clusters that produce tree pollen and result in a later dispersal.

"In general, what we're going to see is warmer weather earlier in the season, which means those trees are going to be producing pollen earlier in the season, which makes for a slightly longer allergy season," he said. "But remember, that's not going to be consistent."

Frank adds that plants aren't uniform in how they produce pollen either. Like people, fluctuations in life cycles can affect their production.

But the weather isn't the only thing that can affect a person's seasonal allergies. Genetics also plays a role, according to University of South Florida associate professor of allergy and immunology Dr. Farnaz Tabatabaian.

She said for people with a predisposition to eczema, asthma, and environmental allergies, certain immune cells are a "bit more hyper."

"Those individuals are more predisposed to having sensitization to pollens, and also indoor allergens like dust mites, cockroaches, and molds and so forth," Dr. Tabatabaian said.

And when people are exposed to allergens, their immune cells get irritated and inflamed.

For some people, it's not only the outdoors causing them trouble. While nearly the entire year has outdoor allergens, the humidity causes indoor allergens as well.

"It's like sort of a double whammy for patients that are sensitized," Tabatabaian said.

While allergies won't increase morbidity, she said they can decrease your productivity. So if you suffer from bad allergies, Tabatabaian said it may be better to seek medical advice on when the best time to take allergy medicine is, instead of when you're at your worst.

"It's like you're on a cliff," she said. "And if you're already on the cliff, you're going to tip over versus if you are kind of preventative and have an action plan."

And even though the beautiful weather and Florida landscapes contribute to seasonal allergies, Frank said it's important to remember the pollen-producing plants' environmental benefits far outweigh the allergic symptoms they cause.

"My biggest concern as a lover of trees is that people do not translate their concern about the pollen into the idea that we need to remove trees from our urban environment," he said.

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.