Seasonal allergies have been amplified by climate change, experts say

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If you feel like allergy season is getting longer and more intense, you’re not wrong — experts say it is, and climate change is the culprit.

“There are more days in the season, so for people who think their allergies are going on forever, yes, they’re right. And we have more pollen grains in the air,” Cecilia Sierra-Heredia told Matt Galloway at The current.

Sierra-Heredia is a lecturer in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University and studies the relationship between seasonal allergies and climate change.

One study found that in the United States and Canada, the pollen season is starting about 20 days earlier and pollen loads are about 21 percent higher since 1990 — and that’s partly due to global warming.

“With an increase in temperature and an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the plants are responding by having longer blooming seasons. And of course that means more pollen in the air,” said Sierra-Heredia, who was not involved in the study.

Fight allergies

Anne Ellis has seen firsthand the effects of a longer allergy season. Ellis is a professor of medicine and chair of the Department of Allergy and Immunology at Queen’s University, and also suffers from seasonal allergies.

“We have such a long winter that we tend to forget how bad our seasonal allergies were until we’re right in the thick of it again,” said Ellis.

But Ellis says that as allergy season gets worse, the medications and therapies for it are improving.

There are good options for seasonal allergy sufferers to treat their symptoms, and many antihistamines no longer have side effects such as drowsiness. (PhotoMediaGroup/Shutterstock)

“We have a lot of new, very effective prescription drugs that we didn’t have five years ago. We have new and better immunotherapies, so ways that we can change a patient’s immune system,” Ellis said.

Ellis explains that previous interventions required an injection from a doctor, but now the same effect can be achieved by taking medication.

“It’s important to make sure you buy the non-sedating newer antihistamines that say ‘non-drowsy’ on them because some of those older antihistamines that are known to cause sedation also just aren’t as effective and may not work …for you too,” said Ellis.

The core of the problem

Sierra-Heredia said towns and cities across Canada are trying to find ways to lessen the effect of seasonal allergies.

One of the options is to plant more female trees. That’s because female trees don’t produce pollen, though they are often perceived as messier because they grow fruits and seeds.

And in British Columbia, Sierra-Heredia said many plans have been made by the provincial government and municipalities to reduce the carbon footprint and increase the sustainability of new buildings. She said planting more native tree species would also help.

“Hopefully we’ll see more of this in the future because we’re sure climate change will continue to worsen allergy seasons,” Sierra-Heredia said.

“We should use this as an incentive to contribute to possible initiatives in our communities, and individually, that mitigate climate change that could help us stop exacerbating these potential allergy problems.”

Written by Philip Drost. Produced by Lindsay Rempel.

Seasonal allergies have been amplified by climate change, experts say

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