Allergy Season Is Getting Worse, Here's Why


| LAST UPDATE 03/20/2022

By Stanley Wickens
allergy season climate change
picture alliance / Contributor via Getty Images

For many people, the end of winter doesn't mean the end of tissues and runny noses quite yet. Every spring, millions of people are affected by the increased amount of allergy-inducing pollens released by flowering trees and plants. And because of climate change, we're now learning its effects and risks to human health are about to get even worse.

Previous research done on the issue found that the pollen season in North America now arrives an estimated 20 days earlier than it did 30 years ago. It also lasts eight days longer and fills the air we breathe with 20% more allergy-triggering pollen. "Pollen has a huge impact on public health," says Allison Steiner, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Michigan. "So many people are affected by seasonal allergies, yet predictive models for pollen are really not that good." Along with other researchers, Steiner conducted a new study, which was recently published in Nature Communications, that attempts to fill the gaps in these models.

pollen increase climate change
picture alliance / Contributor via Getty Images
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Steiner's team created models that used historical data to predict changes in pollen emission that correspond to shifting factors like temperatures and precipitation. Their work takes into account emissions by 15 of the most common allergy-inducing plants, as well as an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide resulting from climate change. This new research estimates that by 2100, the amount of pollen produced in the allergy season could rise by 40% - a rather alarming rate that is urging scientists to better understand the factors behind it. Additionally, it estimates that, by the end of the century, the pollen season could begin 40 days earlier and extend to around 19 days longer.

"Our simulation looks at pollen emissions day by day," Steiner says. "And you can see the progression—it starts in the Southeast, and then, as temperatures warm, the line of pollen production moves to the North." The models presented the scientists with two possible scenarios. The more extreme situation - using fossil fuels - shows carbon dioxide concentrations at over 2.5 times their current level and a pollen season growing twice as intensely as the past 30 years. However, the second scenario, which tackles greenhouse gas emissions, gives us hope: "Basically, the pollen impacts decreased by half compared to the high-emission scenario - so the researchers really highlight how much tackling climate change will have critical benefits to our respiratory health,” says William Anderegg, a professor at the University of Utah. Stay tuned while this story develops.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below