I suppose you can’t really blame everything on ageing, can you? I mean, it’s a handy excuse for buying one of those rolley things to carry your groceries on the bus, maybe, and it may even explain why you figure you should wear some of the stuff that’s been hanging in the closet for years, but there’s a limit to what you can get away with without somebody phoning Social Service. You have to be careful.
I was pretty sure that nobody would consider allergies -okay, just hay fever- as an impediment to living on my own. I’ve never flaunted them on the bus, or anything, and anyway I only sneeze into my sleeve if I can’t reach one of the wads of toilet paper I carry in my pocket -it’s only fair to others, my mother used to tell me.
Allergies have never been a major issue in my life, or anything, but lately I find that I’m having to plan ahead for my nose on trips through the forest. I never used to need help -I could walk for hours, paper-free, and except for the advice from my bladder, brooked no constraints. So, unused to impediments, I have begun to wonder whether I should now be filing seasonal allergies alongside the years on my personal shelf.
Anyway, they’re only allergies, for goodness sake: ‘Allergic diseases are a group of immune-mediated disorders mainly caused by an IgE-dependent immunological reaction to an innocuous environmental antigen (allergen)’ -a definition I copped from ScienceDirect. But still, I’d like to think that maybe my immune system is far too clever to be tricked by mere allergens and has been put on high alert against more serious things that could shuffle me off. So, in my mind I am grateful it keeps on kicking in, even if there remains some token resistance from sundry facial appendages. And, in the overall scheme of things, I’d rather deal with nasal effluvia than the Grim Reaper.
Of course, not only have I wondered why there seems to be a shorter periodicity to these tentative threats to my hoary and doddering integrity, but also why younger people who still have hormones and everything, are sneezing too. Is there something going on that we’re not being told? Government stuff?
As much as I enjoy a good conspiracy theory, I suspect that the article I came across in the Smithsonian magazine may have put a pin to that balloon: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/allergy-season-getting-longer-and-nastier-each-year-180971922
In an article by Jason Daley, we are led to believe that it’s just allergens after all -I’m not special, apparently. ‘The upswing in allergens is a global phenomenon… with pollen counts increasing across the Northern Hemisphere in the last 20 years—an uptick likely fueled by climate change. And that’s a big deal; between 10 and 30 percent of the global population, including 50 million Americans, suffer from seasonal allergies.’ This comes from a new study published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health in which researchers ‘analyzed pollen counts in 17 locations worldwide stretching back an average of 20 years. Of those locations, 12 saw significant increases in the pollen load over time. The international team hypothesizes that the upswing in pollen is related to changes in maximum and minimum temperatures caused by climate change.’
There are apparently three main reasons why pollen counts are increasing so rapidly: ‘First, rising CO2 levels truly do have a greenhouse effect, increasing the growth rate of many plants which leads to more pollen. Rising temperatures extend the growing season of pollen-producing plants. And longer spring seasons lengthen the pollen production of certain plants and allows more fungal spores to make it into the air.’
I have to confess that I’m more than a little disappointed that it’s not just the vigilance of my unique immune system that’s acting behind the scenes to delay my inevitable exit from the particular mortal coil to which I have been assigned. Everybody wants to be special.
Despite the crowd on the bus, it was easy to hear the sneezing. Even the people standing in the aisles began to stare at the young man sitting in the seat in front of me. He was one of those whose sneeze sounded like a shout -a command- and everybody looked up from their phones obediently.
“Sorry,” he said to the assembled multitude in an apologetic voice, when his string of commands finally ran out.
“Hay fever?” the woman sitting next to him asked, leaning as far away from the man as she could politely manage.
He nodded in embarrassment, all the while wiping his nose with a seemingly endless supply of tissues from his pocket. “Bad this year…” he added between wipes. “A real curse,” he added, to emphasize that he, as well as those around him, was also a victim.
“Bet you didn’t have a dog when you were a kid, eh?” the woman said.
“My father was allergic to almost everything, so we never had a dog when I was growing up.”
The woman smiled wryly, and I could see her sigh. “And I bet he never had one growing up, either.”
The man stared at her for a moment, wondering if he’d missed something. “I… I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Of course he never had a dog -he had too many allergies. He used to sneeze all the time, I remember.”
The woman softened her face and smiled patiently. “Kids aren’t as exposed to things like animals as much as they used to be. Everything is so sanitized nowadays. Not as much exposure to viruses and other germs…”
“Uhmm…” I sensed he still didn’t know what she was talking about. “But aren’t dogs dirty?”
The woman stared at him for a moment as if he were thick, and then her expression softened again. “Yes, I suppose they are, but our immune systems are supposed to protect us from danger, right?” He nodded obediently. “And it learns what is harmful or dangerous when we’re very young. The more things we are exposed to then, the more it learns what to attack and what to leave alone.”
The man wiped his nose once more, still nodding as she spoke.
“So,” she continued, leaning away from him in case he started sneezing again, “dogs have a lot of dander and things that immune systems learn to discriminate from more harmful stuff. If they haven’t learned, and they attack pollen and dander as if it’s dangerous, it’s called an allergy. A mistake has been made, in other words.”
The man seemed to think about it for a moment. “But there must be more to it than that, don’t you suppose?”
The woman shrugged. “There is, but early exposure to animals is thought to be important for some kinds of allergies, anyway.” She reached over him carefully to pull the cord for the next stop. “But I’m not an allergy specialist, or anything like that,” she added as she stood up to head for the exit.
The man stopped wiping for a minute and smiled at her. “But at least you seem to know a lot more about allergies, than I do,” he said, more to be polite than anything, I imagine. “Thank you for the information… What do you do anyway?” he continued, still smiling as she squeezed into the aisle.
“Pet store,” she replied and reached into her purse and handed him her card. “Call me when you have kids, eh?” Then, suddenly, she sneezed a couple of times. “Just a cold,” she explained over her shoulder, as she reached into her pocket for a handkerchief and started through the door. “Caught it from my daughter,” she shouted as she stepped off the bus.
I guess you can’t ever be sure you’re really winning.