There’s bad news for pollen allergy sufferers: New research has shown that climate change is making hay fever seasons start earlier and last longer. On top of that, these periods of high pollen activity are becoming more intense, featuring around 21 percent more pollen than levels measured in the 1990s. Warmer temperatures and elevated higher CO2 are to blame for these effects that are set to result in higher healthcare costs and more emergency room visits for those affected.
With allergies, your immune system flares up to an otherwise innocuous foreign substance—cat fur, pollen, or peanuts, for example. Allergic reactions occur as a result of “allergic” antibodies called IgE that target one of these allergens. IgE attach themselves to immune mast cells or basophils, sending out floods of histamine—the chemical that causes allergies’ trademark hives, itching, and sneezing.
Trees, weeds, and grasses release tiny pollen grains into the air during particular seasons to fertilize other plants of the same species. Grasses, ragweed, and certain types of trees produce the most highly allergenic types of pollen.
German researchers have also uncovered a novel trend in pollen dynamics—changing weather patterns mean they’re now floating into unchartered territories, exposing residents to allergens that are “new” to their immune systems.
Samples collected at a number of alpine monitoring stations in Bavaria showed that 75 percent of pollen species found came from non-local pollen sources.
"This means that the actual pollen concentration is less dependent on local conditions," wrote the authors, attributing this influx of foreign pollen to the effects of shifting wind and atmospheric patterns on a global scale.
Around 40 percent of the population of Northern Europe are already affected by pollen allergies. Rising pollen counts, longer allergy seasons, and the arrival of never-before-seen pollen strains mean the problem is likely to impact many more on a global scale. Researchers in the U.S. and Asia are also reporting similar phenomena.
“Climate change isn’t something far away and in the future. It’s already here in every spring breath we take and increasing human misery,” said pollen allergy expert, William Anderegg. “The biggest question is—are we up to the challenge of tackling it?”