Bad news for allergy sufferers.
This summer will be the worst in recent memory on the Island for those with pollen allergies, according to a tree biology researcher.
To blame is the wet, cold spring, which created a lush ground for grasses and other plants, but also pushed back the Douglas fir’s growth season by a month.
As the weather warms up, the fir and other pollinating plants are all releasing pollen at the same time, said Patrick von Aderkas, who studies tree reproduction at the University of Victoria.
Pollinating plants release anywhere from hundreds of thousands to billions of pollen grains a day, he said.
“The plants are flooding the air with as many of their little spaceships as possible.”
According to Frances Coates, CEO of Aerobiology Research Laboratories, grass pollen counts are a lot higher on Vancouver Island and B.C.’s coast than the rest of Canada because of the wet, moderate climate.
Counts have soared in the last week and a half, as the area warms up from a dreary spring.
“This is going to be a very high year. Allergy sufferers to grasses better be prepared,” she said.
The two biggest pollen offenders on the Island are alder and grasses, according to the research lab, which collects daily data on pollen and spore counts in cities across Canada. The Weather Network uses Aerobiology’s daily allergen forecasts on its website.
Other common allergens are weeds like plantain, which can elicit a strong allergic reaction – even in small amounts – and stinging nettle.
Plantain has broad, thick leaves and spiky, yellowish flowers. It’s usually found on roadsides and in meadows. Nettle leaves are heart-shaped and tapered at the ends, with a thin layer of fuzz.
Invasive Scotch broom is also a culprit.
“I’ve passed it around in class, and some kids have to leave,” Aderkas said.
People’s level of response to a particular plant is entirely individual. While allergies usually develop when someone has been exposed to the substance over a period of time, some people are genetically predisposed to an allergy.
One solution prescribed by Victoria allergists is Pollenguard, a dissolving oral drop that contains a small dose of an allergen. The idea is that it’s taken 30 to 60 days before the pollen season starts, and then year-round in the hope that the body builds up an immunity.
Sublingual immunotherapy, the official name for the drops, has been endorsed by the World Health Organization as an alternative to traditional allergy injections.
“Immunotherapy, done properly, to be conservative, is about 70 per cent effective,” said Dan Sharp, CEO of Western Allergy, which manufactures Pollenguard.
He said he’s noticed an increase in allergists prescribing the drop this year, partly because it’s gaining recognition, but also because this year has been worse for allergies.
The formula is cheap, at the equivalent of $1 per day. It can also be customized for people who are allergic to more than one substance.
Sharp also said people are more likely to take the drops because they’re easier.
“The compliance rate is way up, because people don’t have to go to the doctor every week,” he said.