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Some are calling it the 'pollen tsunami,' a phrase coined by allergist Dr. Clifford Basset.

Allergy sufferers: Rare pollen 'tsunami' has you sneezing

Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Sunday, May 10, 2015, 9:12 PM - Some are calling it the "pollen tsunami." It's an unusually concentrated period of extremely high pollen counts in the air, and it's spreading to many parts of the country at this time.

The term, coined by U.S. allergist Dr. Clifford Basset, is the result of the delayed onset of spring in the northeast. The usually staggered pollen production of different plants was stalled, and instead started the same time.

Having a late season is not unusual, said Frances Coates, CEO of Aerobiology Research Laboratories in Ottawa. However, she explained that Saskatchewan is ahead of Ontario which is rare.

Seasonal temperatures dominated in the Prairies for March through mid-April, while below seasonal temperatures were seen in Ontario, impacting early pollen arrival.

"Saskatchewan is usually a bit farther behind...We are catching up now because of the real hot weather we are having," Coates said. "Because the weather was so cold right across Ontario. All of the early pollen has been delayed and all of a sudden everything is coming together."

Sudbury and Thunder Bay are two locations that typically tend to be behind Ottawa, this year they are also ahead, Coates noted. Ottawa is one of 30 sites across Canada Aerobiology Research Laboratories collect data from. They compare seasonalities using Ottawa as a baseline.

"I don't remember something like this happening in the 23 years I've worked here," she said.

Plants and trees have a very specific timeline or calendar that they follow each year for when they sprout, produce buds and fill the air with pollen.

As Ontario sees the tail end of poplar tree pollen, later pollen including birch and oak have started.

"You're getting a totally different picture, which can happen, but seeing the whole country and what has happened is quite unusual," Coates said. "It depends on the weather and nighttime temperatures. If they are below zero and cold for several days and the pollen season has started, the levels will stay low. We are now seeing quite high levels. The early pollen tended to not go as high as they can, but now that the weather is really warm, birch started late but the season is high."

Birch, oak, pine and in some locations linden pollen, can last until July if the season is really late.

Allergists have pointed to climate change and urbanization as potential culprits, New York Magazine reports.

"Climate change is changing the climate so it's obviously going to change how trees react and the types of seasons they will provide us," said Coates.

It is important for those affected by allergies to check up on pollen levels as people may start treating their symptoms with medication a week or two early before the season starts, said Coates.

If you struggle with seasonal allergies, a spoonful of yogurt, may make the allergies go down. Probiotics or "good bacteria," may help people suffering from allergies, a new study suggests.

Published in April in the journal International Forum of Allergy and Rhinology, researchers reviewed data from 23 randomized trials and more than 1,900 people. 

"They found that the majority of these studies (17 of 23) showed that people with seasonal allergies who took probiotic supplements or ate foods containing probiotics showed improvement in at least one outcome measure, such as improving their allergy symptoms, or their general quality of life, compared with allergy sufferers who took a placebo," Live Science reports.

Sources: Live Science | New York Magazine

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