Millions of Americans dread their runny noses when spring comes around. To be exact, over 50 million Americans deal with allergies yearly, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. However, if you’re one of those 50 million people, experts have some tough news for you: The climate crisis may extend your seasonal allergies beyond the spring months.
Seasonal Allergies 101
Seasonal allergies can technically happen any time of year, as different plants produce pollen at different times of the year. The allergy symptoms you experience are a response to specific types of pollen, and for most people who suffer from allergies, those symptoms occur in the spring, when pollen is thick from trees and grass.
Like with all allergies, symptoms of seasonal allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to the presence of pollen. It detects the pollen as a threat, even though it’s otherwise harmless. When the immune system acts up like this, it causes inflammation in the respiratory system, resulting in congestion, cough, sneezing, and watery eyes.
The Effects of the Climate Crisis
Luckily for most people with seasonal allergies, symptoms usually subside by the time summer comes around; not so luckily, the climate crisis may change that.
Trends and predictions of the climate crisis reveal that temperatures and rainfall levels will continue to rise. The rising temps will likely alter the typical pollen schedule. This might increase the amount of pollen in the air and extend the pollen season, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
To make things even worse, air quality is expected to deteriorate. The combination of higher temperatures, increased rainfall, and more pollutants in the air is a recipe for smog, as well as an increase in mold and fungi growth.
All of these (pollen, smog, mold, and fungi) are triggers for not just allergies, but also asthma and eczema. The former has been particularly troubling to health experts: In the United States, the prevalence of asthma has increased from 7.3 percent in 2001 to 8.4 percent in 2010, according to the CDC.
For those with asthma, the worsened air quality and increased pollens can actually be dangerous and even fatal. It causes missed school days, costly ER visits, and—most tragic of all—an average of 10 deaths daily, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation. Asthma disproportionately affects African-American children, who are more likely to live in cities that have worse air quality and more indoor allergens.
There are many things you can do personally to lower your carbon footprint—which can help reduce the progression of climate change—but now is also a good time to develop healthy habits to manage your seasonal allergies and asthma (if you haven’t done so already).