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Allergy season is getting worse, is climate change behind it?

Climate change is making allergy season worse. Rising temperatures and a longer freeze-free period mean that plants and trees produce pollen

By Ground report
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Allergy season is getting worse, is climate change behind it?

Climate change is making allergy season worse. Rising temperatures and a longer freeze-free period mean that plants and trees produce more pollen, and for longer periods. This extended pollen season exposes people to allergens for a more extended time, increasing their chances of developing allergic reactions.

In addition to the increased pollen production, climate change is also causing an increase in air pollution. Air pollution can exacerbate allergy symptoms by causing inflammation in the respiratory system, making it more difficult for people with allergies to breathe.

These changes in the environment are having a significant impact on public health, as allergies can cause a range of symptoms including itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and difficulty breathing. Severe allergies can even lead to hospitalization and death in some cases.

According to Climate Central, a warming climate can increase the energy available for thunderstorms, which in turn increases the risk of "thunderstorm asthma."

Although the exact mechanism is not clearly understood, various studies have shown a correlation between thunderstorms and asthma attacks or hospitalizations related to asthma. Pollen and mold spores are believed to be key factors in this correlation.

During thunderstorms, pressure changes and winds can break up pollen and mold spores into smaller particles that are easier to inhale, potentially triggering asthma attacks.

Allergies: Climate Change's Sneaky Effects

Mass Eye and Ear researchers, including Amiji and Dr. Benjamin S. Bleier, have made an intriguing discovery about the increased prevalence of respiratory viruses during winter. They found that the number of extracellular vesicles, which are sacs of fluid responsible for fighting viruses in the nose, decreases with cooler temperatures. This biological mechanism sheds light on how respiratory viruses thrive during the winter and may offer insights into combating allergens.

Climate change exacerbates the vulnerability of the nose to allergens by producing larger and more concentrated doses of pollen. Amiji suggests that understanding how allergens interact with our bodies and the reactions of the nose could lead to the development of specific anti-allergy therapies. Meanwhile, wearing a face covering, especially during high pollen counts, is a low-tech solution.

Amiji and other experts recommend using high-quality masks like the N95 along with allergy medication. A high-efficiency particulate filter mask can effectively prevent the inhalation of pollen and mold spores. Masks are particularly beneficial in reducing allergy symptoms during outdoor activities such as yard work, and it is recommended to wash or shower when you return indoors and keep windows closed.

Antihistamines and nasal sprays such as Flonase are commonly used as initial defense mechanisms against allergies before immunotherapy is considered. Some people may require a combination of allergy medications and shots.

Climate change is increasingly linked to seasonal allergies, as noted in Climate Central's Allergy Season Report. Warmer temperatures and elevated carbon dioxide levels lengthen allergy seasons, merge different pollen seasons, and intensify airborne allergen levels. Plants, stimulated by the increase in carbon dioxide, grow and produce more allergen-rich pollen grains.

What role is climate change having? 

A recent report highlights the impact of climate change on the production of allergens. The report explains that higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stimulate plant growth, leading to increased pollen production and mold growth.

Certain studies have demonstrated that elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 may enhance the production of pollen and spores, as well as increase their allergenicity in various species including grasses, ragweed, oak trees, and common allergenic fungi.

  • Longer and more intense allergy seasons: Climate change is causing temperatures to rise, resulting in longer allergy seasons with more intense pollen and mold concentrations.
  • Higher levels of pollen: Rising temperatures are causing plants to produce more pollen, and for longer periods, exposing people to allergens for a more extended time.
  • Increased mold growth: Climate change is creating more favourable conditions for mold growth, resulting in higher concentrations of mold spores in the air.
  • More severe weather events: Climate change is causing more frequent and severe weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. These events can release large amounts of pollen and mold into the air, further aggravating allergy symptoms.
  • Worsening respiratory conditions: Increased exposure to allergens can lead to more severe respiratory conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which can be life-threatening.

The report also indicates that pollen production could double by the end of the century due to continued high CO2 emissions. Furthermore, the study suggests that pollen season could commence up to 40 days earlier and last up to 19 days longer.

So what does all this mean for our health? 

Pollen season can have a significant impact on our health, especially for those who suffer from allergies, asthma, or other respiratory conditions. Exposure to pollen can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • Sneezing: Pollen can irritate the nose and cause frequent sneezing.
  • Runny nose: Pollen can cause the nose to produce excess mucus, leading to a runny nose.
  • Itchy eyes: Pollen can irritate the eyes and cause them to become red, itchy, and watery.
  • Coughing: Exposure to pollen can cause coughing, especially in people with asthma.
  • Shortness of breath: In people with asthma, exposure to pollen can cause shortness of breath, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
  • Fatigue: Allergy symptoms, such as sneezing and coughing, can be exhausting, leading to fatigue.

Overall, pollen season can have a significant impact on our health, especially for people with allergies, asthma, or other respiratory conditions. Taking precautions and seeking medical treatment if necessary can help minimize the impact of pollen season on our health.

Preparing for the pollen season

When pollen season gets underway, there are precautions those who are susceptible, have asthma or other inflammatory diseases can take to limit their exposure.

Here are some steps that you can take to prepare for the pollen season:

  • Check the pollen count: Keep track of the pollen count in your area. You can find the daily pollen count online, in the news, or through weather apps. On days when the pollen count is high, you may want to stay indoors as much as possible.
  • Keep windows and doors closed: Keeping windows and doors closed can help prevent pollen from entering your home. Use air conditioning instead, which can also help filter the air.
  • Shower and change clothes: Pollen can stick to your clothes and hair, so it's a good idea to shower and change clothes after spending time outdoors during allergy season.
  • Wear a mask: Wearing a mask can help filter out pollen and other allergens when you're outside. Look for masks designed for people with allergies, such as N95 masks or masks with built-in filters.

By taking these steps, you can prepare for the pollen season and reduce your exposure to allergens, which can help alleviate allergy symptoms.

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