Achoo! Why warming climate is bad news for your allergies, asthma

24 million suffer from seasonable allergies in US

Dandelion. (Pexels)

This article first appeared in the “In This Climate” Newsletter. To sign up, click here -- or use the sign up form at the bottom of this article.

“If we don’t slow down the cycle, pollen production will only get worse.”

Welcome back to the In This Climate Newsletter! I’m Ken. I launched this newsletter to bring climate change to the neighborhood level. How is climate change impacting Michigan right now -- and how will it impact Michigan in the future? What can we do about it?

We’ll spend some time looking at the issues -- and we’ll seek out solutions. We’ll talk to the experts. We’ll educate ourselves along the way.

🤧 Sneezy season getting worse

My name is Ken and I have terrible allergies and mild asthma, pretty much year-round. Pollen, dust -- oh, and the two cats in my house -- contribute to my strict allergy management regiment.

But even with a daily pill, nasal spray or more -- allergies are still incredibly hard to manage, and it’s not getting any easier with the globe warming up.

The extended warmth, even by a few days, is also extending allergy season. “Weather changes – such as heat waves and droughts – can lead to stagnant air (a lack of air flow). When the air doesn’t move, pollutants react together in the heat and sun. This increases ground-level ozone,” a report from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America said earlier this year. “Rising CO2 levels in the air increase pollen. This can trigger asthma and allergy symptoms.”

Overall, Detroit ranks 40th for worst cities for seasonal allergies. Grand Rapids ranked 24th. It could be worse!

Researchers have studied the relationship between CO2 and pollen. A 2014 study looked at the relationship between CO2 levels and Timothy grass pollen. They tested CO2 at 400 parts per million (ppm), which is near current levels.

Then they tested CO2 at 800 ppm, where levels are expected to be at the end of the century if trends continue. In this study, grass pollen tripled when CO2 levels doubled.

CO2 impact on grass pollen production. (AAFA)

Another study showed that rising CO2 levels also lead to increased ragweed pollen. Researchers project if trends continue, the levels of ragweed pollen will double between the years 2000-2060.

Rising CO2 levels also contribute to rising temperatures, leading to longer growing seasons. A longer growing season means a longer allergy season. Local 4′s Paul Gross reported on this in April for Climate Challenge Week:

All of the impacts of climate change and a warming Earth are bad news for the millions of people who suffer from allergies. More than 24 million have season allergies in the U.S., with pollen being the biggest cause.

“The last freeze in many cities is occurring earlier in the year. This last freeze signals the beginning of spring. An earlier start to spring gives plants more time to grow. Spring across the U.S. is 2 degrees warmer on average. Fall for much of the U.S. is also getting warmer, making the summer growing season last longer. Most analyzed U.S. cities have fall seasons that are 2.5 degrees warmer on average,” AAFA writes.

Related reading: What Michigan’s future could look like without action on climate change

How can you manage allergies?

Here are some tips from AAFA:

  • Check pollen counts daily, and plan outdoor activities on days when pollen counts are lower.
  • Keep windows closed.
  • If possible, use central air conditioning with a CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly® HVAC filter.
  • Wear sunglasses and a hat or other hair covering when outdoors.
  • If cutting grass, working with plants, or raking leaves, wear an N95-rated mask, gloves and sunglasses/goggles.
  • Take a shower and shampoo your hair before going to bed.
  • Change and wash clothes after outdoor activities.
  • Dry laundry in a clothes dryer or on an indoor rack, not on an outdoor line.
  • Wipe pets off with a towel before they enter your home.
  • Remove your shoes before entering your home.
  • Wash bedding in hot, soapy water once a week.
  • Use a nasal rinse to flush out inhaled pollen.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, the top five cities for worst allergies were: Scranton, PA; Richmond, VA; Wichita, KS; McAllen, TX; and Pittsburgh, PA.

♨️ Hot reads

  • Western U.S. drought concerns: Thanks in part to rising temperatures due to climate change, “extreme” or “exceptional” drought conditions are now occurring in 74 percent of the state of California, while 72 percent of the Western U.S. is classified as experiencing “severe” drought, according to data from the U.S. Drought Monitor. More here.
  • Heat deaths rise: More than one-third of the world’s heat deaths each year are due directly to global warming, according to the latest study to calculate the human cost of climate change. But scientists say that’s only a sliver of climate’s overall toll — even more people die from other extreme weather amplified by global warming such as storms, flooding and drought — and the heat death numbers will grow exponentially with rising temperatures. More here.

🧊 Break the ice

Thanks for reading the In This Climate Newsletter! I appreciate it. If you have a topic you’d like me to cover or just want to say hello, feel free to email me!

We have plenty of other newsletters at Local 4, covering all types of topics. Sign up for others here. Talk soon! - Ken Haddad (Email | Twitter)

Sign up for the In This Climate Newsletter below:

About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital content manager for WDIV / He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter.