The year has barely begun when many people are already reporting the first pollen allergy. Because of the mild weather, they fly even earlier than before. And they are even more aggressive. Why is that and what allergy sufferers can do about it.

The pollen season usually starts in February with hazelnut pollen and in March with alder pollen. However, due to the dry and mild winter weather, both types of pollen have been out and about since the end of December.

The German Pollen Information Service Foundation reported just a few days ago that hazelnut and purple alder pollen had already been measured along the Rhine and occasionally within so-called urban heat islands. It must therefore be assumed that there will be a further “short-term strong” increase in pollen count. The only relief then is a renewed drop in temperatures and the rain, which makes it difficult for the pollen to spread further.

The fact that pollen counts early is no longer unusual, says agricultural meteorologist Wolfgang Janssen from the German Weather Service in Offenbach, referring to climate change. If it stays mild for the next few weeks, all the hazelnut bushes would be in bloom as early as January 25th and distribute plenty of pollen. The average day for this has been February 10 since the 1990s, before that it was only February 25 on average.

In this and the previous winter, nine percent of the hazelnut bushes were already in flower at the end of December – such a quota would not normally be until two weeks later. “In 2016, the proportion was nine percent as early as December 15,” the meteorologist looks back.

The alder is far from that far, its flowering percentage is currently only one percent, as it was also said. However, on a long-term average, it only begins to distribute its pollen at the beginning of March. Here and there snowdrops are already peeking out of the ground, and their share is therefore one percent. According to Janssen, they usually bloom on average from around February 17th.

A problem for allergy sufferers is not only the earlier flowering, but also the fact that the pollen is becoming more and more aggressive. As a result, more and more people will suffer from pollen allergies in the future. The Helmholtz Center in Munich assumes that by 2050 half of all people will develop allergies such as hay fever.

The reason for the more aggressive pollen is, among other things, climate change. Because the increasing heat and drought put plants under stress. This puts them in an emergency situation. In order to ensure their continued existence, they then produce more pollen, explains environmental doctor Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann from Helmholtz Munich. Because this increases “their chance of more offspring who manage to survive despite the crisis,” says the scientist.

Another problem is that the stressed plants not only produce more, but also more aggressive pollen. The researchers at Helmholtz Munich have also found that the nature of the pollen changes as a result of heat and drought stress. In order to increase their immune protection and protect themselves from negative environmental influences, they produce special proteins. In turn, allergy sufferers react even more strongly to these.

The higher pollen load in the air, which is also more allergenic, not only increases the allergic reaction in those affected, but also more people overall can develop a pollen allergy.

Hay fever is anything but pleasant for those affected. According to the allergy information service of the Helmholtz Institute in Munich, the main symptoms are:

Those who suffer from it also often feel extremely exhausted. Headaches and fatigue are also often associated with it.

No matter how mildly or severely someone suffers from hay fever, it should never be taken lightly. If left untreated, it can lead to serious chronic diseases such as sinusitis. In the long term, hay fever can also trigger allergic asthma, which is accompanied by coughing, shortness of breath and shortness of breath.

In addition to smoking, exhaust fumes and excessive hygiene, genetic factors also play a role in the development of hay fever. Children whose parents suffer from it have a significantly higher risk of developing the disease. Although there are preventive measures such as avoiding air pollutants and tobacco smoke in childhood, they cannot definitely prevent later illness.

Anyone suffering from hay fever can relieve the acute symptoms with medication such as antihistamines or cortisone. However, the most effective treatment method against hay fever is hyposensitization. The immune system slowly gets used to the allergen. In around 85 percent of patients, significant relief can be achieved up to and including the disappearance of the allergy symptoms. The statutory health insurance companies even cover the costs for this.

The German Allergy and Asthma Association recommends an old household remedy for annoying hay fever for everyday use: the nasal douche. The nasal cavities are flushed with a saline solution to remove pollen and secretions from the nose.

In order to keep the pollen load in the apartment as low as possible, the following measures are also helpful:

According to a study by the Charité Berlin, FFP2 or medical masks can also prevent pollen from penetrating the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose and thus help prevent the immune system from being irritated by the allergens and developing symptoms.