It’s officially May — which might have you wondering why your seasonal allergies haven’t kicked in yet.
Experts say this is due to cooler temperatures across Canada this season — which means a later start for allergy symptoms — but the potential for a particularly "nasty" allergy season.
According to data from Aerobiology Research Laboratories — the only company to monitor outdoor pollen and spore levels daily — this is an atypical start to allergy season.
Much of Canada has seen a delayed start to the season with moderate levels of pollen in the air. But according to Daniel Coates, the company's director, “if temperatures increase rather quickly, there will be an explosion of pollen over a shorter period of time that will be pretty nasty for allergy sufferers.”
Low levels of pollen collected so far across Canada
The company has data collecting stations across Canada, and Coates says that pollen levels have been “very very low” in most regions this year compared to past years.
The data collected over the last two months in British Columbia — Victoria, Vancouver, Burnaby and Kelowna — shows that so far there has been about 95 per cent less pollen in the air than last year, approximately 75 per cent less than in 2021, and about 50 per cent less than in 2019.
Coates also noted how this trend is similar further east.
“In 2021, at this time in Toronto, we had 442 grains per cubic meter of Maple and Cedar pollen," he explained. "But so far this year we only have 66 grains per cubic meter of pollen in the air.”
But, is this just the calm before the pollen storm?
“We don’t necessarily anticipate a heavier or lighter pollen season than last year, because we can’t predict that yet, but we certainly expect a later start to allergy season by about 2-3 weeks," Coates said.
For example, the pollen season for Birch, which runs for about 4-5 weeks, and typically starts at the end of April will begin closer to mid-May this year.
The same goes for other highly allergic seasonal triggers like ragweed, oak, maple, grass and even spores.
Seasonal allergies are getting worse across Canada
Despite the low levels of pollen collected this year, Coates said the data collected over the past 30 years indicates that the overall trend across Canada is showing pollen levels getting worse — which is bad news for allergy sufferers.
“We’re seeing more pollen in Canada as a whole and globally too, which is leading to more kids developing asthma,” he explained. “Allergies aren’t going away. In fact, they’re getting worse.”
According to Coates this is due two main factors: Climate change and the overplanting of male trees. The company’s trend line indicates that warmer temperatures are in fact leading to more pollen in the air. But, rejuvenation programs to “spice up cities” are also to blame.
“We have cities planting a lot of male trees because they don’t carry fruit or flowers, so they’re considered cleaner," he said. "But when you have more male trees, you’ll also get more pollen.”
If there is a sudden increase in the temperature this year, those trees will all release pollen at the same time — aggravating symptoms for about one-quarter of Canadians who suffer from seasonal allergies.
How to best prepare for seasonal allergies
“Since there’s no cure for allergies, and none on the future horizon really, the best thing to do is to prepare. Know what’s in the air and stay informed,” Coates said. “By knowing what’s in the air, you can actually take appropriate actions to minimize the effect of pollen on your health.”
He recommends checking the weather or an allergy app to stay up to date on what kind of pollen is circulating in your area.
And if you don’t know what you’re allergic to, find out by booking an appointment with an allergist.
After that, avoidance is the best strategy. Stay indoors when pollen levels are elevated — and make sure your indoor air filters are on and clean.
You can also wear a mask to keep pollen out of your nose and mouth and use wrap-around sunglasses to protect your eyes.
And while a rainy start to spring for many parts of Canada may not exactly be lifting your sprits — experts say it actually could help your allergies.
In a recent interview with NOW Toronto, Toronto pharmacist John Papastergiou explained, “I tell people go out after the rain, you’ll feel better, you will. You know, you won’t get it as bad,” he explains.