You may have seen the news about the recent scientific study on how climate change is worsening pollen seasons in North America. The paper examined pollen counts from 60 North American stations between 1990 and 2018. The researchers found that the pollen seasons for plants like trees, grasses and weeds showed a 20-day increase in length and a 21% increase in pollen concentration across North America during that 28-year time frame. If you suffer with pollen allergy, having a longer season with more pollen in the air is definitely not good news.
Let’s take a closer look at climate change and why it can lead to worsening of allergies. What is climate change? In a broad sense, it is a modification in weather patterns over time that leads to changes in ice sheets, land masses and oceans. These transformations in our climate can occur from both natural events and from the actions of humans. Some of the natural occurrences that affect our climate include volcanic eruptions, changes in the sun’s radiation and movement of tectonic plates. But it appears that the transformations caused by humans are presently leading to issues on our planet. The increase in carbon dioxide, or CO2, released into the environment by activities like burning coal and oil is the biggest difficulty.
Human actions have contributed to most of the increase in global CO2 emissions in the last 70 years. Why is that a problem? Because CO2 is a greenhouse gas, meaning a gas which traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Sunlight can penetrate our atmosphere, but CO2 in the air prevents the sunlight from leaving the planet. This leads to the commonly used term “global warming.”
The global annual temperature has increased 0.13 degrees Farenheit per decade since 1880 but over twice that rate since 1981. The 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998. This is important because this gain in the earth’s temperature can lead to severe temperature extremes throughout the planet, leading to loss of sea ice and snow cover, increased rainfall and changes in habitats for both animals and plants. Overall, this can have a major effect on public health, demand for water and energy, and also affect our agriculture.
We must also add the burden of seasonal allergies to the long list of disruptions to our planet from global warming. How does the increased temperature on Earth lead to worsening nasal allergies? Three things happen related to global warming that make your allergies miserable. First, the growing season of plants is longer and starts earlier than in the past, so the length of time pollen is in the air to cause symptoms has increased. Not only is the season longer, but the amount of pollen produced by each plant is greater. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, one ragweed plant can produce as much as 1 billion pollen grains.
Lastly, and very importantly, the pollen that’s produced is more allergenic. That means it’s more likely to trigger an allergic reaction with fewer grains of pollen in the air than pollen, which isn’t as allergenic. In other words, the potency of the pollen is affected. It’s this triple play that’s leading to more severe nasal allergies, which impair your quality of life.
If you think your fall and spring allergies are getting worse each year, you’re probably right. If staying indoors during these times of year and over-the-counter allergy medications aren’t doing the trick to control your symptoms, find a board-certified allergist to help get relief.
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