The study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, found the pollen season could start up to 40 days earlier by the end of the century than it has in recent decades in the US due to global warming. The researchers also found that annual pollen counts could increase by as much as 250%.
“Pollen is something that’s on people’s radar because it affects their daily lives when they’re allergic,” Allison Steiner, study author and professor at the University of Michigan, told CNN. “A large part of the population is affected by these allergies and people are really interested in understanding how [their allergies] may need to make changes to better manage their symptoms.”
While there have been studies in the past that suggested allergy seasons are getting longer and pollen levels increasing, Steiner – who has two children who suffer from allergies – said her research is unique because it breaks down individual pollen types and tree sources by region, specifically analyzing a variety of plant sources including oak, cedar or ragweed.
The timing of the release of tree pollen – especially in regions with many deciduous trees – varies. For example, in Michigan — where Steiner lives — birches typically pollinate first, then oaks or pines, followed by other species over the course of a few months.
In the future, however, the study found that different types of tree pollen, once different in time, will eventually overlap with each other, leading to higher overall concentrations that pose a risk to public health.
“Some people are allergic to certain pollens, some are not, and some have more allergenic proteins that can trigger more allergies. If you’re an allergy sufferer, you might know what you’re allergic to based on the type of testing you’ve done,” Steiner said. “The [projected] higher pollen levels are in addition to what you may be allergic to.
Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist and associate professor at Columbia University, suffers from allergies himself and always carries a rescue inhaler. He said the study expands on the work already being done and makes it clear that the climate crisis will eventually make allergies, asthma and other public health problems worse.
“It’s a very solid piece of science,” Ziska, who is not involved in the report, told CNN. “If you look at the projections, especially both the high and low projections, it is a very good indication of the direct impact that climate change can have on people’s health.
‘I was struck by the granularity of the study, which was examined more on a very specific regional basis and also in relation to specific plant species,’ he added.
Wind-driven pollen, which plays an important role in plant fertilization, is closely linked to changes in temperature and precipitation. With the spring season getting warmer earlier due to climate change, plants could pollinate much earlier and for a longer period than is currently the case.
Climate change is also affecting the number of cold winter hours and frost-free spring days, which in turn affects the timing and duration of the pollen season.
As temperatures warm in the south and drought hits the southwest, pollen from crops such as ragweed or Poaceae — a plant that typically grows on grasslands or salt marshes — is expected to be higher in those regions than in the north.
A longer and earlier start of the pollen season could trigger a public health emergency, researchers say. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 24 million people in the United States suffer from pollen-induced respiratory allergies, or hay fever.
While more research is needed to determine larger socioeconomic impacts, Steiner said it could result in a large economic loss due to lost work, school days, medical expenses and early deaths.
A recent UN climate report stressed that planting more trees and plants in green spaces could remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, which could lead to an increase in pollen in those areas. But not all plants produce pollen. Steiner said as long as planners are careful about which trees to plant, people shouldn’t worry about more trees increasing pollen levels.
With the window to adapt to the climate crisis fast closing, Steiner said the projections could still be avoidable if the world cuts greenhouse gas emissions on a large scale while bringing the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere down to manageable levels.
“What happens between 2050 and 2100 really depends on human choices,” she said. “We really hope that will change. very [of us] in the climate community want to see these cuts, this concentration will gradually level off and hopefully a temperature plateau will begin, but a lot of work needs to be done to bring about this change.
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https://abc13.com/allergy-season-starts-earlier-pollen-climate-crisis-change/11655668/ Allergy season will start much earlier than normal and will be much more intense due to the climate crisis, the study says