Red alert in metropolitan France. The National Aerobiological Monitoring Network has forecast this weekend a particularly devastating pollen peak in more than 80 French departments. Enough to exacerbate allergies that have already been raging for several weeks, to the point of filling medical offices. "At the moment, general practitioners see between five and six patients for allergic rhinitis every day, it's huge!" says Professor Frédéric de Blay, head of the thoracic pathologies department at Strasbourg University Hospital and president of the French Federation of Allergology. It must be said that a third of French people born after 1980 suffer from pollen allergy. "There is not a single French family that does not know an allergic case," summarizes Frédéric de Blay, who speaks of "evil of the century".
Everywhere in France these high levels are explained by the multiplication in the air of grass pollen. This botanical family includes some 12,000 plants that are generally assimilated to grass and cereals: chaff, wheat, rye, barley, corn, reeds, duck, etc. "Grasses are ubiquitous plants: they are everywhere, even in cities," says Dr. Nhan Pham-Thi, allergist, interviewed on France 5 Friday. The pollination of these very common plants is carried out by the wind, multiplying the pollens present in the air at the time of spring. "The concentration of pollen is high this year and the patients are particularly symptomatic," says the president of the French Federation of Allergology.
The allergic reaction is explained by the fixation of these pollens on the body, especially in the nose and eyes, soliciting the immune system. As if these allergens were viruses or bacteria, the immune defenses are put in place and create the physiological reactions symptomatic of the common cold (sneezing, fatigue, stuffy nose ...) even though winter is over. This is a kind of "physiological bug": the immune system considers pollens that are not a threat as a threat.
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A potentially "dangerous" evil
If most of the time the disease is limited to mild symptoms, although very unpleasant, in some cases pollen allergies worsen. "The inflammation can go down from the airways to the bronchi, and there it is potentially serious. We can reveal asthma that can lead us to the emergency room, "warned Friday Dr. Nhan Pham-Thi. "If people did not know each other asthmatics and encounter these kinds of symptoms, then it is dangerous. It is necessary to consult very quickly, "insists the allergist.
Rather rare a few years ago, more and more serious cases are noted by doctors. "Allergy is a silent epidemic that spreads quietly in the French population," warns Frédéric de Blay. The World Health Organization recently revealed that 50% of the French population could be allergic in 2050, compared to 30% in 2010 and less than 3% in 1970. This explosion of cases is largely explained by climate change. "CO2 works as a kind of fertilizer on plants: the more its concentration increases, the more pollen the plants release," explains Christine Rolland, director of the association Asthma and allergies. Fine particle pollution contributes to lower pollen deeper into the bronchial tree.
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€1.5 billion per day
In addition to the disease stricto sensu, the multiplication of allergic disorders entails increasingly important direct and indirect costs. "Allergies cost the France billions of euros a year," says Frédéric de Blay. ANSES (French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety) concludes at the end of a recent study that allergies to ragweed pollen alone, a grass known to be highly allergenic, France generate an annual cost of between €415 million and €654 million – if medical care is taken into account, production losses linked in particular to work stoppages, and loss of quality of life. The amount will only increase "due to the planned expansion of ragweed-infested areas," concludes ANSES.
Will France eventually follow Japan's example? The Japanese prime minister is preparing to take measures to combat pollen allergies, which he says are "a social problem" and "a national disease". Another Japanese politician even said, "If hay fever is eradicated, the prime minister's name will go down in history." A study by the Japanese company Panasonic puts the economic losses caused by allergies at 1.5 billion euros per day at the worst time of the spring season in the country of the rising sun alone. The leading cause of reduced productivity in the world ahead of cardiovascular diseases, respiratory allergies are very expensive for the economy.
However, the disease is not incurable. "You have to go see a doctor!" insists Christine Rolland, director of the Asthma & Allergies association. Thanks to a battery of tests, the allergist will make a complete diagnosis before possibly proceeding to desensitization. "The process has proven its effectiveness: you can permanently get rid of a very disabling allergy," says Frédéric de Blay. But it is still necessary to be able to find an appointment with an allergist. Treatment times range from three to nine months and the medical specialty has lost 50% of its practitioners in 10 years, contrary to health concerns. Specialists recommend not to wait for the pollen season to make an appointment.