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The link between allergy season and climate change, and why sneezing could get worse

According to a new study, climate change can actually cause allergy season to become longer and...
According to a new study, climate change can actually cause allergy season to become longer and more severe.(KJCT)
Published: Feb. 16, 2021 at 6:12 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Climate change has been linked to extreme weather disasters such as floods, fires and droughts but research shows, it may also play a big role in health and well-being. According to a new study, climate change may contribute to a longer and more severe allergy season.

“One of the reasons we’re seeing this is we’re seeing increased levels of pollen and, in addition to that, we’re seeing prolonged seasons,” says Dr. Jeffrey Demain, who has published about half a dozen papers on the matter. “So we’re seeing earlier springs, and a later time before winter begins, we call if frost-off and frost-on.”

Roughly 21% more pollen is in the air in North America, with a season that is 20 days longer compared to 1990, according to a new study, published this month in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Demain, who practices at Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska, says in addition to longer seasons and more pollen, climate change is also causing carbon dioxide levels in the air to rise, which directly influences the amount of pollen produced.

“Additionally, when you have higher CO2 levels, it’s not just creating higher pollen levels, but it’s changing the peptides or the protein of the pollen, and it’s making each pollen grain more allergenic,” says Demain. “This is something that occurs over years or a dozen or so decades, it’s a slow process.”

Slow as it may be, it’s a process that Demain says is becoming more evident.

“In 1870 our carbon dioxide levels were 280, prior to the industrial revolution,” says Demain. “Now, our CO2 levels are about 420.”

Additionally, Demain says carbon dioxide levels are about 30% higher in an urban area compared to a rural area.

Demain says that while we cannot quickly reverse this pattern, he thinks that early management is important, so people know what to expect. The first step to that he says is recognition of allergy signs and symptoms.

“I know we’re making efforts to try and decrease some of the factors that are influencing our climate right now, and it’s an encouraging thing to see some of those changes, but this is going to take 100 years to really turn this tide,” says Demain. “So I think it’s important to understand what allergy sensitivities are and get them treated to improve quality of life and to decrease the likelihood of developing a more significant respiratory disease.”

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