Climate change is going to make allergy season worse, study says

More people may experience seasonal allergies

A new study from the University of Michigan says allergy seasons might be on the verge of getting worse.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Every spring, summer and fall allergy sufferers in Metro Detroit brace for the inevitable; an explosion of pollen that can make or break those outdoor plans after being forced to spend months inside during the long Michigan winter.

“Pollen really brings out the worst in me. It’s a really bad time, scratchy throat. It’s just it’s all the worst things always happened around this time of year,” Robby Harden said.

Harden, 29, has been living with his allergies since he was a child. He, like most allergy sufferers, can pinpoint the first time his allergy symptoms kicked in.

“I was just outside of recess one day, and I came inside and one of my teachers asked if I was in a fight or something, and because my face was all puffy and I didn’t feel bad at all,” he said. “But then I was in the bathroom looking in the mirror and I was in shock. I couldn’t believe what was happening. So that was kind of like my big rude awakening that seasonal allergies can really affect me in a pretty big way.

His allergies and asthma that came with it became so severe he ended up in the hospital over and over.

“It was very scary because you know, not just nebulizers and inhalers, but I would also go to the hospital. Looking back on it now it would also kind of be triggered by the allergies. So having a good be in the hospital, having a school having to do all these different breathing treatments. It was really scary.”

Millions of children are treated for pollen allergies every year, according to the Mayo Clinic. Those seasonal allergies that often come with childhood asthma don’t have a cure and do permanent damage to the lungs.

Right now, Michigan is in the thick of tree pollen season, and so many of us are painfully aware of that. According to an unscientific poll of WDIV insiders, 96% of the people who responded said they think their allergies have gotten worse over the last five years and that climate change is a major driver of that; and they may just be right. New research from the University of Michigan shows allergy season will get longer and stronger -- boosted by the effects of climate change.

“As we have warmer temperatures as we move towards the end of the century we see that one, the pollen seasons are actually going to get longer and there’s probably going to be more pollen in the atmosphere as a result of warmer temperatures,” Dr. Allison Steiner, with the University of Michigan’s Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, said.

Steiner is the co-author of a new study published in the journal “Nature.” Her findings show allergy season could start 40 days earlier and last 19 days longer as the climate warms. She told Local 4 about her work on a walk through the Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor, ground zero for an allergen explosion.

“The part that was unexpected in some regions a lot of the different timing of pollen sort of collapse, so instead of happening one after the other, " she said. “A lot of those tended to collapse together so they’re being emitted at the same time.”

That specific finding means more pollen. On the high end of her estimates, the level of pollen went up to 200% more pollen. That level of pollen could mean people without allergies now, might have them later leaving many unprepared.

Weather can also play a role in this. As storms get more intense because of climate change there’s been evidence pointing to what’s called thunder asthma. Essentially, when heavy rains break down pollen into smaller particles that can work their way deeper into the lungs and that can cause major breathing problems even for those folks who don’t have allergies or asthma. Although Steiner said the evidence for that is only in its early stages and the biggest finding is the increase in how long allergy season might be and how much pollen we may be dealing with.

“Right now, about 30% of Americans have seasonal allergies and as the loads continue to increase people can develop sensitivity to pollen over time so we might expect that more people are going to start to suffer from allergies when the pollen concentrations in the air are higher,” Steiner said.

This means so many more may find themselves looking for a plan just like Harden.

“Like most people check the weather report. I check the pollen report every springtime, you know, it’s just something that I have to deal with to make sure that I know if today is going to be a good day or a bad day and I got a plan out from there,” Harden said.

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About the Author:

Grant comes to Local 4 from Oklahoma City. He joins the news team as co-anchor of Local 4 News Today weekend mornings and is a general assignment reporter.