Is the Covid-19 pandemic responsible for the increase in pollen allergies?

Is the Covid-19 pandemic responsible for the increase in pollen allergies?

In mid-May in the Paris newsroom. A good half of the editors rush to the office with a sneeze and an ugly look that a rabbit suffering from myxomatosis would not deny. I don’t look very fresh from the computer at home and every output is synonymous with sneezing.

No fever or body aches, negative tests for Covid and a clean nose … It’s definitely an allergy. And due to the time of year, probably a pollen allergy. In addition, the bulletins published by the National Aerobiology Surveillance Network (RNSA) are in the red and point to the high expected health impact of pollen. Suffice it to say that we are not the only ones supplied with tissues and antihistamines.

Some of us have years, but many have never experienced any symptoms until 2020, 2021 or even before that year. And that honestly raises questions, because the data matched when the Covid pandemic, barrier gestures, and the mask entered our lives. Should we see a simple correlation or a real causal relationship?

Hereditary allergy

For Dr. Catherine Quéquet, allergist and author New allergies – how to recognize them? How to fight them? in Éditions du Rocher, the answer is both simple and complex.

Simple, because neither Covid nor health measures can be responsible for the increase in pollen allergies. “For an allergy to occur, there must be a link between the genetic background that predisposes the allergy to the environment in which the responsible allergen is deployed.”claims Dr. Catherine Quequet. In short, if your parents are allergic, chances are you too. To be precise, you have a 12% risk if neither parent is allergic, 20% if one parent is allergic, 43% if both parents are allergic, and 72% if both parents have the same allergic manifestations.

In addition, the allergist explains that while some people feel they have become allergic overnight (hello, I’m writing!), It’s actually a long process: “There is a whole asymptomatic phase during which a person makes IgE [anticorps appelés immunoglobulines E (IgE), dirigés contre des protéines (allergènes) contenues dans les acariens, les animaux, certains aliments, les pollens, ndlr]. During this phase, one obviously does not realize anything and yet the mechanism of allergies is already on the way! This phase can last for several months or several years, during which time the allergen exposure will recur. And it is at the end of this time that the symptoms appear.

So for Dr. Quéquet, we can postpone the hypothesis that Covid infection would cause allergies in you. We can also postpone the hygiene-inspired hypothesis that wearing a veil would suddenly make us more fragile. These traces do not really take into account the terrain that predisposes to allergy or the asymptomatic phase of the allergic mechanism.

The effects of imprisonment

And then we lack the “environmental” factor, and that’s where it all gets a little complicated. Here, Covid may have played an indirect role, especially in 2020. The allergist explains: “Due to restrictions, it was not possible to clean green areas, road edges and empty spaces, which increased the sources of allergenic pollination. Just look at the cartography of the website and observe the high risk of pollinosis throughout France at this time of year.

Could this significantly increase our exposure and create leakage in IgE production in people of atopic origin? Hard to say. Especially since there are many factors that come into play on the environment that have nothing to do with Covid.

However, the nuances on our “see nothing”. Pandemics of zoonotic origin and recent environmental factors have many points in common, and both are part of the direct consequences of what is sometimes called the anthropocene, ie geological epochs characterized by the arrival of humans as major forces for change on Earth. …

Because the problem is there: if pollen is present every year, experts note a net increase in pollen seasons, to which increased virulence is added. Global warming is no stranger to this. Because according to Dr. Catherine Quéquet “Due to higher temperatures, pollen such as cypress can be transported geographically further in windy weather.” This increases the potential of the sensitized population.

Weather and air pollution

In addition, as the RNSA points out in its bulletin of 6 May 2022, “Air pollution episodes can worsen allergy symptoms”. Fine particles and diesel act in two ways: they increase the allergic potential of pollens and weaken the mucous membranes, making them more sensitive.

Finally, it is necessary to take into account the meteorological phenomena of these months April-May – many temperature changes and also thunderstorms. “Pollen bursts under the influence of storms and when the weather is nice again, their concentration increases significantly”, says Dr. Quéquet. RNSA confirms: “Sunny weather and summer temperatures reported […] promote emissions and dispersal of high concentrations of grass pollen in the air. Allergies must prepare for complicated weeks.

So what to do? Our allergist calls allergy sufferers to good treatment and asthmatics to be vigilant and to follow medical prescriptions. He also advises people wearing contact lenses to wear glasses during high-pollen episodes to avoid keratitis.

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“It is also recommended to ventilate early in the morning and late in the evening, do not hang clothes outside, check the filters in the car and rinse or wash your hair in the evening”, he adds. And, of course, consult with an allergist to begin desensitization so we can be ready for next year.

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