Is climate change making my allergies worse? | lifestyle

Dear EarthTalk: Could climate change really make my allergies worse?

L. Pulaski, New Bern, NC

Pollen may be an unfortunate contributor to ill health in the first place, but there are signs that the annoyance is about to get worse. Warm weather contributes to an increase in pollen count, and air pollution can concentrate it. Climate change is now recognized as a contributor to changes not only in the oceans and atmosphere but also changing the life cycle and even the biological processes of everyday plants.

In fact, carbon dioxide pollution is particularly damaging in this regard. Not only does it cause a large part of global warming in general, but it also has a strong association with allergens. Plants grow larger in the presence of more carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas. In the process, they produce more flowers with more pollen counts. Combining larger plants, more flowers, and more pollen means a longer allergy season.

Furthermore, some plants will produce more pollen when they are concentrated on urban “heat islands” which trap and concentrate heat. Examples of these affected plants include poison ivy and ragweed. Poison ivy grows in greater abundance and greater size. It also produces more irritants such as the chemical urushiol under these conditions. Ragweed produces more pollen when the temperature rises and may even produce more irritation.

Another type of irritant we need to worry about is mold, especially on household materials such as walls or insulation materials. Continued exposure to mold can lead to infections and other respiratory problems. Carbon dioxide production, fluctuating humidity levels, and changing temperatures — all typical of our new climate — allow even more mold to grow.

Allergies’ damaging grip on human health has been around for thousands of years, but it takes a little imagination to understand that this growing health crisis will become increasingly dangerous. Research clearly shows that the pollen season extends.

While mitigating climate change will require a concerted global effort, there are ways we can reduce the impact of allergens on our own health. For starters, try landscaping with trees that produce less pollen, such as female trees and shrubs when landscaping.

Ways to support policy and civil society initiatives include donating to asthma and allergy research centers such as the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America to help further understand causes plus mitigation. Understanding what triggers the production of allergens and how we are affected by them will help ordinary people live healthier and happier lives.

Allergies may worsen, but losing hope in the overall climate change struggle would be wrong. The allergy shift is just a tough wake-up call to invest in further climate efforts. Reducing emissions will reduce the production of greenhouse gases that cause warming temperatures and pollen production.

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