You’re not dreaming: your allergies are intense right now and the worst is yet to come

Nasal congestion, itchy nose and throat, difficulty sleeping: are your allergies giving you trouble? This is normal, since the concentration of pollen in the air has reached critical levels in the last few days. A phenomenon that could gain in intensity in the years to come, especially in Montreal, predict experts.

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“Since the beginning of May, we have seen that the concentration of pollen in the air is very high in Montreal, and we are heading for the most intense period in the coming weeks,” warns the director of communications of Laboratoires de aerobiology research, Daniel Coates.

Figures from the company, which is the country’s leading provider of scientific data on the subject, show that while the number of days with high pollen counts has decreased compared to last year, very large spikes have been reached in recent days.

Joel Lemay / QMI Agency

“The flowering of the trees came later than last year, because the warm weather was delayed. But we are already seeing a few days with peaks of more than 1000 pollen particles per cubic meter. A concentration is considered very high from 200 particles per cubic meter, ”he explains.

More severe symptoms, longer

With such concentrations of pollen in the air, it is enough for even people who do not consider themselves allergic to experience symptoms. A phenomenon that is likely to gain in intensity in the coming years due to global warming, says Daniel Coates.

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“The concentration of pollen in the air is not an exact science. It varies a lot: there are years with high concentrations which can be followed by calmer years. But the overall trend shows that it has been increasing in Canada for 30 years, in particular because the trees release their pollen during hot periods. As the planet warms, the trees release their pollen over a longer period,” he explains.

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Botanical sexism

Although global warming is the main culprit pointed out to explain the lengthening of the pollen season, cities like Montreal also contribute to making it more intense, argues Rita Sousa-Silva, researcher at Paqlab at UQAM, a laboratory aimed at better understanding the tree-human relationship.

“Large urban centers like Montreal only plant male trees, disproportionately. This is a problem, because pollen grains are particles produced only by males,” explains the postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences at UQAM.

Joel Lemay / QMI Agency

The reason for this stubbornness is that the female trees are the ones that produce the fruits and the seeds. Cities therefore avoid planting them, so as not to have to clean up the damage that these seeds and fruits would cause by falling on public roads. A situation that the expert deplores.

“It’s botanical sexism. We completely forget that female trees also play an important role in nature”, denounces the researcher.

In nature, female trees receive and trap pollen produced by males in order to reproduce. Without these female trees, the pollen therefore has nowhere to go, causing the concentration of pollen in the air to increase.

Review greening policies

The establishment of green spaces in the city is often cited as an example of a solution to global warming. However, cities would benefit from better understanding the allergenic potential of the plants they sow in order to better act in the future, believes Mme Sousa Silva.

“The differences between plants need to be better understood, since the concentration of pollen is a public health issue,” she concludes.

Tips to reduce symptoms

▶ Second-generation antihistamines, ie drugs like Reactine, are effective and cause no side effects, says allergist Mose Ben-Shoshan.

▶ He also suggests wearing sunglasses and avoiding touching clothes outside.

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