Seasonal Allergies: Severity in Urban Areas

Seasonal AllergiesThere are certain images that we typically associate with seasonal allergies, the most common being sneezing and runny noses due to airborne pollen. These scenarios are commonly thought to occur in places far from the city or suburban areas, that is, places where there is a large amount of vegetation. While rural areas are commonly viewed as being difficult for seasonal allergy sufferers to reside in because of the abundance of plant life, studies show that pollen levels, weather patterns, stress levels, and a general awareness of seasonal allergies can actually make cities and urban areas more difficult for allergy sufferers.

Though many believe that rural areas have higher pollen levels due to a greater abundance of plants, research suggests otherwise. Simply having an abundance of plants does not guarantee pollination; the plants must be biologically similar in order to do so. German scientists have recently proved that a greater variety of closely related flora exist in towns and cities than in rural areas [1]. Because these plants are biologically similar, they are more likely to pollinate in synergy, therefore increasing the rates of pollination and pollen levels [1]. These levels are further increased by excess amounts of precipitation in cities. NASA satellites attribute these higher levels of precipitation to the heat created from manmade objects such as buildings and roads that are highly concentrated in urban areas [2]. The excess moisture increases the production of pollen in trees which increases pollen levels, therefore triggering an early and severe allergy season [3].

Misinformation about allergies serves to propagate the effects of seasonal allergies in cities, further increasing the probability and prevalence of symptoms. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) conducted a study to determine just how much Americans know about seasonal allergies and returned with fairly disappointing results. Only 28% of sufferers say that they are knowledgeable about seasonal allergies and 49% wait until symptoms appear before taking action. Many sufferers also choose not to take medication because they believe that it can have side effects that lead to drowsiness [4]. This lack of awareness and preparation makes sufferers even more vulnerable to the symptoms that are already elevated in cities. Without correct information, allergy sufferers suffer through symptoms without medication or even worse, the wrong medication, which can intensify their situations. Furthermore, urban areas have a high concentration of low-income individuals who come to the city looking for work. This demographic of people usually have neither health insurance nor the time to visit a doctor in order to receive information or treatment about their conditions [5].

Financial concerns are just one of the many factors that contribute to the stress levels of a city, which can make them more stressful than rural areas. Other factors include crime and pollution [6]. This is apropos because the heightened stress of city life also increases the susceptibility of city dwellers to allergies. Researchers at Ohio State University concluded “that even slight stress and anxiety can substantially worsen a person’s allergic reaction to some routine allergens” [7]. The effects of stress are also likely to cause another reaction the next day with even more severe symptoms [7]. Studies also show that when children are faced with stress from a young age, they are more likely to develop allergies as they grow older [8]. This childhood stress can stem from something minor such as moving or something major such as the death of a family member. Although children in both rural and urban areas deal with these stress factors, children in cities also have to deal with the same stress of city life that adults deal with, which makes them more susceptible to future symptoms. Stress is something that is not usually connected to seasonal allergies, but as research shows, it plays a significant part in both current and future allergy attacks.

The amount of pollen in air does not solely rely on the amount of vegetation in an area. Excess precipitation and biological closeness of plants aid in increasing these levels. Biological and physical factors such as pollen count are obvious causes of increased seasonal allergy sufferers but the added factor of stress can make dealing with allergies even worse. Research has served to dispel the common notions regarding susceptibility to seasonal allergies in urban and rural areas. Inflammation due to pollen is what starts allergic reactions, but having increased levels of pollen due to weather patterns in addition to psychological factors can make the condition even more uncomfortable for sufferers. It is important to take all of these factors into account when dealing with seasonal allergies, especially with young children, for events that happen to individuals when they are young can cause repercussions years later.

References

1. Knapp S, Kühn I, et al. Challenging urban species diversity: contrasting phylogenetic patterns across plant functional groups in Germany. Eco Lets [abstract]. 2008 [cited 2010 Jun 27]; 11 (10):1054. Available from: Wiley InterScience. http://interscience.wiley.com.
2. NASA satellite confirms urban heat islands increase rainfall around cities [document on the Internet]. EurekAlert; 2002 Jun 18 [cited 2010 Jun 27]. Available from: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2002-06/nsfc-nsc061802.php.
3. Mussoline JF. Early allergy season springs into action: understanding healing, symptom-mediating roles of mast cells helps in choosing best treatment. (Special Section: Ocular Allergies). Ophth Times [serial online]. 2003 [cited 2010 Jun 17]; 28(9):18. Available from: General Reference Center Gold. http://find.galegroup.com.
4. When it comes to allergies, Americans don’t make the grade [document on the Internet]. EurekAlert; 2004 Mar 22 [cited 2010 Jun 17]. Available from: http://www.eurekalert.org /pub_releases/2004-03/k-wic032204.php.
5. McLafferty S, Wang F, et al. Rural reversal? Rural-urban disparities in late-stage cancer risk in Illinois. Cancer [abstract]. 2009 [cited 2010 Jul 19]; 115 (12): 2783-91. Available from: Wiley InterScience. http://interscience.wiley.com.
6. ‘Twitter-like’ technology could make cities safer [document on the Internet]. EureakAlert; 2010 Jul 6 [cited 2010 Aug 1]. Available from: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases /2010-07/eaps-tc070610.php.
7. Holland E. Stress, anxiety can make allergy attacks even more miserable and last longer [document on the Internet]. EurekAlert; 2008 Aug 14 [cited 2010 Jun 17]. Available from: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-08/osu-sac081108.php.
8. Herberth G, Weber A, et al. Stress during childhood increases the risk of allergies. Ped All and Immun [Epub ahead of print]. 2008 [cited 2010 Aug 1]. Available from: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-06/haog-sdc061808.php.