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Allergies on the Rise - What Can We Do?

It’s spring again in the U.S., also known as pollen season. It was a long and cold winter with more snow than I can remember in the last 11 years. In fact, the snow, which usually melts after the third day on the ground, stayed and lingered for what seemed like the entire winter. So what does all this snow have to do with allergies? A lot!

According to a December 14, 2010 article published in AgWeek, an online resource for farmers, “Our polar thermostat is out of whack!” With a colder and wetter winter in 2010, the spring of 2011 will be much wetter as well. The moisture in the ground makes for a great growing season. In the Northeast, frigid 30 degree evenings were followed by weather in the upper 70’s. Trees and flowers were cold one day and hot the next. Given the fluctuation in temperatures, the plants and trees exploded on the first hot day, instead of the gradual process in years past. Tree pollen counts are now extremely high, making our eyes itch and our asthma symptoms flair. To make matters worse, spring not only brings tree pollen, but the wet weather also brings the dreaded mold, a double whammy. Plus, the pollution that is disintegrating our ozone levels and causing global warming and wacky weather may also be contributing to erratic pollen dispersement.

It always amazes me that the current conversations around the allergy doctor’s waiting room lean towards the idea that the allergy season is going to be extreme this year and much worse than the last year. Funny, I’ve heard the same argument for the last 10 years! Is it really getting worse, or are we getting sicker? Perhaps it’s our immune systems that can not differentiate between the allergens and something harmful like a virus. The body attacks the pollen much like it would attack a virus, trying to flush it out of our noses with mucus, and causing our eyes to water and tear.

Some suggest that our immune systems are on super overtime and work more than they should to attack the pollen, causing extreme reactions. Other theories suggest that our immune systems are being compromised by the man-made proteins and hormones introduced into our foods over the last decade in such products as milk, eggs, and meat, some of the staples of the American diet. Is it by chance that the rise of the use of man-made genetically altered foods coincides with the rise in allergies, especially food allergies? I don’t think so. I think it is one of the culprits that is making our children sick.

Another piece of the puzzle lies within the government regulations regarding air and land pollution. The website gives us a clear picture of the best and worst air quality across the USA. Another good site is Scorecard,, where you can research toxic chemical releases, lead hazards, smog, hazardous air pollution, animal waste, chemical profiles, and health effects as well as regulations. Looking at the Smog link, it is full of indicators that the Northeast is not a healthy choice with those who have asthma. Another amazing website belongs to the American Lung Association ( There you can find State of Your Air, which allows you to fill in your zip code and gives you a grade of the air quality in your region. The town in which we reside, although picturesque, gets an F in ozone, a C in the past 24 hour particle pollution, and a Passing in overall yearly pollution. We have 14,464 pediatric cases of asthma, and 43,440 adult cases of asthma out of the 626,015 in total population.

Factors such as global warming which causes extreme flux in temperatures, the rise in genetically altered foods, and the rise in air and land pollution may all be making us ill. So what can we do? We can start by making a difference in our own homes. For example, our family uses to recycle over 50% of our household items and in turn earns points for free goods and services, just as one might from a credit card. To date our household has earned 10 free tickets to the Franklin Institute, 15 free boxes of Kashi cereal, 3 one-hour massages at the local health institute, donated solar panel credits to local Philadelphia Charter Schools, and has redeemed many other coupons. It is a wonderful incentive to reduce our local landfill deposits, not to mention we get to enjoy fabulous free massages!

Another way you can get involved is to support the American Lung Association. Join them in making your voice heard in congress by supporting the clean air act at The Clean Air Act is the law that defines EPA's responsibilities for protecting and improving the nation's air quality and the stratospheric ozone layer. The American Lung Association can always use people, just like you, to lobby their elected officials to support the Clean Air Act. Contact your local ALA association to see how you can make a difference.

As for the man-made proteins being added into our food chain, there is a simple solution; you can choose to buy organic. It may cost you a little more for the organic due to the high cost of organic certification and labeling, but the health benefits are well worth it. Our family is not 100% organic, but we do make a lot of trips to Whole Foods and Trader Joes and stock up on what we need. Trader Joes, in fact, is not only reasonable, but, I must say, a total blast to shop at.

We may not be able to move to Hawaii, which receives an A in the pollution and ozone index, but we can make some impact at home. Please share some of your ideas on how your family is making our planet a better place for those with allergies and asthma.

To read more about the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act, visit

Janet Millan