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April 13, 2021

Worsening spring allergies linked to climate change, experts say

Global warming extends plants' growing seasons causing them to produce more pollen, which is further irritating seasonal sufferers

If you've noticed your allergies getting worse every spring, you are not alone, allergy experts say. 

The spring allergy season  which takes place from February to May each year and impacts roughly 24 million Americans — is likely intensifying as a result of climate change. The reasons for this are connected to global warming's impact on pollen production, allergists say. 

Climate change's impact on pollen-sensitive allergies is triggered by two things: rising air temperatures and increasing carbon dioxide levels. 

Allergist and immunologist Dr. Juanita Mora recently told NPR about temperature's impact on pollen during the spring. 

During the season, symptoms such as itchy throat and runny nose are triggered by tree pollen, she explained. As temperatures rise, the season when plants are in bloom, and allergy sufferers symptoms are the the worst, gets extended.

With warmer temperatures throughout the year caused by climate change, plants start producing pollen earlier and they produce more, Mora said. NPR cited a report that suggests allergy season has been extended by 20 days since 2018.

A study from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America confirmed this in their own "Extreme Allergies and Global Warming" report.

"Longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures are also shifting where and when plants can grow. Across the country, spring arrives an average of 10 to 14 days earlier than it did just 20 years ago," the AAFA's report says.

Along with temperatures, carbon dioxide is responsible for the more people's more intense allergies. Plants consume carbon dioxide and expel oxygen. When there is an abundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, this triggers more plant growth and, of course, more pollen. 

"We know that sunlight combined with carbon dioxide fuels the growth of plants. So whenever we have more carbon dioxide in the air, then we have more pollen production," Mora told NPR. 

The AAFA report states that trees and other plants have adapted to the higher carbon dioxide levels.

"Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased by about 40% since the 1700s," AAFA researchers write. "They are now at their highest level in 800,000 years and perhaps as long as 15 million years. Because carbon dioxide is essential for plant survival, many plants can grow faster and larger as carbon dioxide levels increase."

Kenneth Mendez, CEO and president of AAFA, recently suggested some tips for those dealing with the worsening spring allergy season. He said people with with worst symptoms should check the local pollen count or allergy forecasts before heading outside. Also taking over-the-counter allergy medicines can help.

Other tips for dealing with the season include doing yoga, eating apples and turning on your air conditioner.

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