Environment Health

Newsflash: Louisville can be an unpleasant place to live at certain times of the year if you have allergies.

If you’ve been here for longer than a week, you probably know this. And it’s not just you — in fact, Louisville’s fall allergy season is consistently ranked one of the worst in the country.

And now that it’s mid-September, people with allergies are several weeks into their seasonal suffering.

Why? A lot of it has to do with geography.

“We live in a valley. The Ohio Valley,” said Dr. Adriana McCubbin, an allergist and assistant professor at the University of Louisville. “So basically, we’re in a bowl, and any sort of pollen or other allergens tend to blow around, but they don’t tend to get out of this valley that we’re in.”

Louisville also experiences all four seasons. And McCubbin said that means there’s a pretty consistent source of pollen spring through fall, though the pollen’s source varies. When the winter is unseasonably warm, like what happened last year, it can be especially bad for those with allergies: the pollen from the fall might not have a chance to completely die off, coupled with trees blooming early means little relief.

But right now, in the fall, it’s ragweed season, along with increases in allergens like dust mites and mold.

“Really that, in combination with kids starting back to school and a lot of viruses and illnesses starting to go around and the weather getting cooler, it kind of becomes a triple whammy for allergy patients,” McCubbin said.

And it’s not projected to get better anytime soon.

A 2010 report by the National Wildlife Foundation found the environmental triggers of allergies are likely to worsen under climate change. Ragweed grows faster and produces more pollen as the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide increases.

Another study found if emissions continue unabated, ragweed pollen production could increase 60 to 100 percent by 2085, due to the carbon dioxide levels alone.

In the meantime, McCubbin said there are three basic remedies for allergies: You can avoid what makes you allergic, like keeping your house’s windows closed or barring pets from your bedroom. You can use medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription, that help relieve symptoms. Or, you can get immunotherapy. That includes allergy shots and sublingual immunotherapy, which involves a doctor placing small doses of the allergen under a patient’s tongue. The only allergens approved by the FDA for sublingual immunotherapy are ragweed and grass pollen.

This post has been updated.

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL. She is also Enterprise Editor.