Summer’s dog days were highlighted by conditions that contributed to the respiratory distress. A prolonged Midwest drought increased dust levels, and wildfires that scorched nearly 4 million acres produced thick smoke, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
It was bad enough to even walk in the summer of pollen, said Christopher Randolph, an allergist and immunologist in New Haven, Conn. Try running in it, like elite Olympic athletes who train outdoors.
“They are inhaling massive amounts of pollen,” he said. Climate change has affected the Olympics at least dating back to the Atlanta Games in 1996, “all demonstrating enhanced pollination,” Randolph said.
As athletes train and compete, “they inhale about 200 liters a minute, massive amounts of airborne allergens,” he said. “It’s very concerning. It’s why we’re very aggressive about treating our athletes with inhaled steroids and nasal steroids.”
There is no question that elite athletes are suffering from more seasonal allergies, Randolph said — a finding that does not bode well for weekend warriors, either.
The growing reliance on albuterol by athletes to treat asthma has become such a concern that the world doping agency requires them to prove they have the illness.
The observations by doctors such as Peden, Randolph and Fineman are hobbled by a lack of definitive data. Scientists and doctors said they knew only of studies showing that global warming has prolonged the allergy season and supersized the pollen count; they knew of no studies that link warming to increased allergy suffering.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Virginia Department of Health do not track respiratory illnesses caused by allergies or the purchase and use of pharmaceuticals to treat them.
Daniel Ein, director of the Allergy and Science Center at the George Washington University School of Medicine, said there is no hard evidence showing an increase in emergency room visits for respiratory illnesses.
“You’d have to look at the emergency room statistics over a period of years. I don’t know of anyone who’s done that,” he said. “It’s bloody hard to prove. We’re busier than we were. This is always a busy time for us. We’ve been busy all year long . . . what’s that about I don’t know.”