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Study: The Link Between Climate Change and Allergies

A recent study points to longer growing seasons, leading to more pollen and more sneezing.

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If you’ve lived through a Texas summer, you either know someone with allergies, or suffer yourself. Unfortunately, a recent study indicates that allergy season is going to get even worse, thanks to global warming. By modeling the effects of climate change, researchers have demonstrated that pollen allergies will strike more people, with greater pollen loads, and in more places than currently affected.

Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, confirms that this research is consistent with current climate change science. With rising temperatures, the growing season for plants is beginning sooner and lasting longer, thereby prolonging allergy season.

Worse yet, plants like ragweed, a common allergen, produce more pollen in carbon dioxide-rich environments. As climate change continues, the carbon dioxide in the environment will continue to increase, as will the pollen loads.

Hayhoe also warns that pollen allergies aren’t the only cause for concern. The warming climate will also affect air quality in general. As temperatures increase, air pollutants become more reactive and produce more ground-level ozone.

Ozone is an irritant that constricts lung muscles and can make breathing more difficult, even in healthy adults with prolonged exposure. The pollutant also aggravates lung diseases like asthma and bronchitis, and can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Changing air quality is poised to have a significant impact on public health. In 2014, according to the CDC, 25.2 million U.S. citizens experienced hay fever, and 24 million citizens currently had asthma. With an increase in allergens and pollutants like ozone, incidence and severity of hay fever and asthma is expected to grow.

There is a small silver lining, though. If you’re allergic to some nearby birch trees, like Hayhoe, you’re in luck. The warming climate is pushing birch trees out of their current environment and towards cooler locations.

To learn more about allergy symptoms, click here.

Or how to adapt to the changing pollen season, click here.

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