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Allergens increase due to warm, dry April

With fewer April showers, trees and flowers brought a more potent allergy season.

“It’s kind of like a perfect storm in terms of pollen,” said Charity Fox, an allergist at the Ohio State Medical Center.

The increase in pollen comes from the warm, dry April. Rainy springs wash pollen from the air and cause plants to release less pollen.

In years past, wild violets along campus paths have waited until April 8 or April 10 to weed their way out of the ground. This year, the early ones were out in time for April Fools’ Day.

This year’s allergy season is part of a trend of spring arriving sooner, causing trees and flowers to bloom and come out a week to 10 days earlier.

“We’ve seen a shift to longer growing seasons, which means more pollen,” Fox said.

“There’s a whole host of factors that make us feel worse,” she said.

One main factor was climate change.

Climate change has led to longer and more intense allergy seasons, according to an OSU study on climate change and allergies from September 2008.

Air pollution amplifies allergies. Carbon dioxide is great for plants but bad for people.

Warm air and carbon dioxide help plants, such as ragweed, grow faster. Pollution makes people’s airways more responsive to pollen, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Faster growing plants and longer growing seasons lead to more pollen, creating a vicious cycle.

Allergens, things triggering allergic responses, are a case of mistaken identity.

The body creates antibodies, which usually kill parasites, to fight harmless things, such as dust and pollen. This process leads to allergic reactions that often mimic cold symptoms, Fox said.

“When the antibody attaches to the pollen grain, the whole rest of the system goes. The antibodies hear ‘let’s roll,’ and you get all of the response you would get if you were defending against a cold virus,” she said.

Spring’s tree pollen was high, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology website, which gives day-to-day pollen reports.

Mulberry, oak and willow trees were the top three culprits.

The website gives tips to help cope with allergy season.

After going for a jog or hanging out at the Oval, taking a shower can wash off pollen and fight allergies.

Air conditioning fights the heat but it can also help clean the air.

Although pollen makes life difficult for people with allergies, it has a purpose.

Male plants release pollen, which is used for reproduction, said Rebecca Lamb, an assistant professor in OSU’s Department of Plant Cellular and Molecular Biology.

Some plants, such as trees, release their pollen into the wind. Other plants rely on birds and bees to carry their pollen.

The pollen carries the plant sperm to its final destination.

Pollen is covered in a protective wall. People are usually allergic to the proteins in the pollen wall, said Lamb, who is allergic to ragweed and oak.

There will be a “weed walk” around campus Friday afternoon looking at the different allergy-causing plants. For more information, call 614-293-4062.

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