Allergy sufferers are being warned to brace themselves for the upcoming hay fever season, as El Niño weather conditions favour a windier, warmer, and drier than usual summer.
And while that forecast sounds ideal for most Kiwis wanting to enjoy a beach holiday, for those with allergies and asthma it means an intense period of runny, stuffy, itchy noses and frequent sneezing.
Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ Chief Executive Ms Letitia Harding says, as a result, asthma and allergy sufferers need to ensure they have enough non-expired medication for the Christmas and New Year break, and always carry it with them.
"It can be a difficult time of year for the respiratory community, but being prepared and taking some simple, but effective, steps can make all the difference.”
Up to 80% of asthma is associated with an allergy, with one in eight adults and one in eight children in New Zealand suffering from the condition.
NIWA meteorologist Ben Noll says that a combination of near or above average soil moisture, above normal sunshine, and above average temperatures is a trifecta toward good growth.
"As we look ahead to next couple of months, the big stand out will be the wind across the country. Strong winds can pick up pollen and circulate it around.”
“It could be that people in the north and east of both islands, where September was particularly warm, may be exposed to more pollen than is typical.”
This year’s El Niño would be one of the strongest Aotearoa has experienced in 80 years, Noll says.
In Australia, previous El Niño years have been associated with thunderstorm asthma events – an immediate asthma flare-up as a result of the significant amount of pollen in the air.
New Zealand’s last recorded thunderstorm event (which was also the country’s first event) was in 2017. It resulted in 14 people presenting to Waikato Hospital’s emergency department with asthma symptoms within 48 hours of the storm. The risk of thunderstorm asthma is highest in adults who are sensitive to grass pollen and have seasonal hay fever (with or without known asthma).
The last strong El Niño in New Zealand was in 2015/2016, while weak El Niño-like conditions occurred in 2016/2017 and 2019/2020.
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