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Where is the worst place for allergy sufferers in Canada?

The spring allergy season has started early in many parts of Canada, with high levels of pollen in some cities such as Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

Daniel Coates, director of Aerobiology Research Laboratories in Ottawa, expects the elevated amounts to continue next week for places, such as most of Ontario, if the temperature continues to rise. Aerobiology creates allergen forecasts based on data it collects from the air on various pollens and mould spores.

Pollens are fertilizing fine powder from certain plants such as trees, grass and weeds. They contain a protein that irritates allergy sufferers.

Although pollen levels declined after a cold spell in some places, he said they are soaring again across parts of Canada.

“So the worst is definitely British Columbia right now, followed by Ontario and Quebec and then the Prairies and Atlantic Canada for the upcoming weeks,” said Coates in a video interview with “We are seeing pollen pretty much everywhere, including the Maritimes.”

He said pollen has increased over the past 20 years largely due to longer periods of warm weather in Canada.

Meanwhile, the Maritimes is one of the best places to live in Canada if you have seasonal allergies, in part because of its rocky territory, Coates said.

With high levels of cedar and birch pollen, British Columbia is the worst place for allergy sufferers in Canada, he added.

“British Columbia is going strong,” Coates explained, noting the allergy season started “very early” in the province in late January. “It has been going strong since late January, early February and it’s progressing with high levels of pollen, mostly cedar, but birch as well, and birch is highly allergenic.”

Causes of high pollen levels

Coates expects a longer allergy season if the warm weather persists. He notes pollen is increasing in Canada and worldwide, adding that in some cases the allergy season is starting earlier and lasting longer than 15 years ago.

He says tree pollen produced last year is now being released into the air because of warmer weather.

“Mother nature acts like a business,” he said. “So you have cyclical periods where things go up and down. … So when it cooled down a little bit, we saw (pollen) reduce in its levels, but now it’s going to start spiking.”

Along with warmer weather, another factor in higher pollen levels is people planting more male trees in urban areas because they don’t produce flowers and fruits and are less messy as a result, he said. But male trees produce pollen while female ones mostly do not.


Coates said moulds aren’t as much of a problem.

“They’ve been mainly at lower levels so far this season,” he explained. “Moulds aren’t as bad in many areas of Canada, but they’re really, really bad in British Columbia.”

In B.C., moulds are worse because of its wet climate and many forested areas, he said.

Coping with allergies

Dr. Blossom Bitting, a naturopathic doctor and herbal medicine expert who works for St. Francis Herb Farm, says a healthy immune system is important to deal with seasonal allergies.

“More from a holistic point of view, we want to keep our immune system strong,” she said in a video interview with from Shediac, N.B. “Some would argue allergies are an overactive immune system.”

Bitting said ways to balance and strengthen the immune system include managing stress levels and getting seven to nine hours of restful sleep. “There is some research that shows that higher amounts of emotional stress can also contribute to how much your allergies react to the pollen triggers,” Bitting said.

Eating well by eating more whole foods and less processed foods along with exercising are also important, she added. She recommends foods high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids such as flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts and fish. Fermented foods with probiotics such as yogurt, kimchi and miso, rather than pasteurized ones, can keep the gut healthy, she added. Plant medicines or herbs such as astragalus, reishi mushrooms, stinging nettle and schisandra can help bodies adapt to stressors, help balance immune systems or stabilize allergic reactions, she said.

To cope with allergies, she recommends doing the following to reduce exposure to pollen:

  • Wear sunglasses to get less pollen into the eyes;
  • Wash outdoor clothes frequently, use outer layers for outside and remove them when you go inside the house;
  • Use air purifiers such as with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters;
  • Wash pets and children after they go outside;
  • Keep the window closed on days with high pollen counts.

Mariam Hanna, a pediatric allergist, clinical immunologist and associate professor with McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., says immunotherapy can help patients retrain their bodies by working with an allergist so they become more tolerant to pollens and have fewer symptoms.

“Some patients will need medications like over-the-counter antihistamines or speaking with their doctor about the right types of medications to help with symptom control,” she said in a video interview with

Coates recommends people check pollen forecasts and decrease their exposure to pollen since no cure exists for allergies. “The best is knowing what’s in the air so that you can adjust your schedules, or whatever you’re doing, around the pollen levels.”

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