Research Is Bad News for Allergy Sufferers

Study in 'Nature' predicts the allergy season will continue to get longer
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 20, 2022 3:40 PM CDT
Study Predicts Longer, Stronger Pollen Season, Forever

By century’s end, if worse-case models prove accurate, pollen season could start 40 days earlier and last 19 days longer than it does now. For many people, that means two extra months of sneezes, runny noses, hives, and itchy eyes. For people with asthma, it means more shortness of breath, more wheezing, and the need for more medicines and therapies. According to a recent peer-reviewed study published in Nature Communications, this is an ongoing 30-year trend toward longer, more intense pollen seasons.

Per NBC News, "using historical pollen data and predictive climate models, the researchers were able to paint a picture of how and when plants and trees could release pollen in the coming decades.” Lead author Yingxiao Zhang of the University of Michigan explained that increased levels of carbon dioxide can boost pollen output in two ways. First and foremost, carbon and other greenhouse gases are raising temperatures on the planet, and scientists know warmer temperatures can accelerate pollen production. Also, bigger plants tend to produce more pollen, and the more water and carbon dioxide plants get, the more they can gorge themselves on sugars derived through photosynthesis.

NBC also points to EPA research showing variations from one place to another, with northern states seeing some of the biggest changes so far, as in Minnesota and North Dakota, where “ragweed season lengthened by 21 days from 1995 to 2015." Allergy symptoms vary from person to person, as well, and those who don’t suffer now aren’t necessarily in the clear forever. An allergy doctor interviewed on NBC’s Today show said everyone’s immune system responds a little differently to different pollens, and environmental factors can change how allergy cells react to various pollens. For relief, experts suggest shopping around for an effective antihistamine because individuals may respond differently to those, too. An NIH study says standard medical masks used to control the spread of COVID are effective at filtering pollen. (More pollen stories.)

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