The effect of climate change on pollen means worse allergies

Cape Codders who feel their seasonal allergies are getting worse every year are not alone. And they weren’t wrong.

Doctors and environmental health scientists say climate change is contributing to longer and more intense pollen seasons – and it’s a trend that shows no sign of abating.

Studies that track pollen activity over decades show that warming trends have resulted in pollen season starting two to three weeks earlier in the northern United States than in the late 1970s and 1980s, said Dr. Aaron Bernstein, director of the global environment and climate change center at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

“Pollen season starts earlier and lasts longer,” says Dr. Lewis Ziska, professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York.

Allergy sufferer Mark Thurman peeks through tree lines at the YMCA in West Barnstable where he works as tree pollen counts remain high.

The number of frost-free days is increasing, affecting plants from trees to ragweed, said Ziska, who has published research on pollen trends in the journal Lancet and the National Academy of Sciences.

The longer growing season had an important impact on pollen trends in New England which was more pronounced in Minnesota and the Dakota, where the growing season has been extended to three weeks, Ziska said.

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