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Allergy sufferers to suffer longer with climate change

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Thursday, April 30th 2020, 5:28 am - You can look forward to longer allergy seasons and worsening symptoms – thanks to climate change.

GETTY IMAGES: Pollen photo, dandelion flower Courtesy: Getty Images

More and more, allergy sufferers are feeling the effects of global warming and this allergy season will be no different - a pollen-induced sneeze-fest is fast coming your way.

“Climate change brings with it rising temperatures and increasing airborne pollen levels and duration,” says Dr. David Fischer, allergist and past president of Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI).

“The warmer it gets, the longer the seasons are and the more likely people are to suffer,” says Fischer. “Increased greenhouse gas levels (like CO2) are associated with increased pollen release as has been noted especially in studies of ragweed.”

Plants need CO2 as food – including allergy-inducing plants. Feed them CO2 and they grow big and the bigger they get, the more pollen they produce. And rising temperatures mean they come up earlier and stay later.

“Increased atmospheric warmth may lengthen allergy seasons especially tree pollen in the spring by starting early and ragweed season in the fall by ending later,” says Fischer.

According to Dr. Michael Brauer, a leading expert on the impacts of climate change on respiratory health, “in Canada, the evidence shows we’re seeing a one to two-month longer allergy season on average than 15 years ago.”

“Not only that, there’s super-duper pollen potency going on – with more CO2 in the air, the pollen itself appears to be more powerful when it comes to causing allergic reactions in people who are sensitive,” says Brauer.

Meanwhile, expect global warming to play a leading role in pollen production in the next few months. “From a spring perspective the thing to watch for would be a potential earlier start to the tree pollen season with warmer temperatures leading to a greater pollen burden,” says Fischer.

“In addition, large amounts of spring rain, which happens more often with increased atmospheric levels, could lead to increased grass pollen counts later,” says Fischer. Wind storms which are associated with atmospheric change can also create terrible pollen season days.

For those who suffer from seasonal allergies related to vegetation, longer seasons and worsening symptoms can all be extremely debilitating, stresses Brauer, and include reduced productivity at work or school, poor sleep and irritability.

So just what can we expect on the allergy front in the future as global warming continues? It’s not good news: “Simply put, things are going to get worse for those who suffer from allergies related to vegetation,” says Brauer.

But just how bad it gets depends on what future pathways we take with regards to emissions and the impacts on increasing temperatures and, unfortunately, “we are already more or less ‘locked in’ to a warmer climate and more CO2 in the air which will lead to a worsening of allergies in general.”

This article is based on an interview conducted by The Weather Network with Dr. David Fischer, an allergist/immunologist and Adjunct Professor at Western University. He is also past president of Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

This article is based on an interview conducted by The Weather Network with Dr. Michael Brauer, Professor at the School of Population and Public Health, The University of British Columbia, and an AllerGen Principal Investigator, He is an expert on climate change and respiratory illness.

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