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The effect of climate change on seasonal allergies

Millions of people have seasonal pollen allergy, and in a changing climate, there is evidence that this number is set to rise. 1In a recent article published in Environmental Health Perspectives, Charles W Schmidt brings together current knowledge from leading physicians, scientists, and academics in the fields of allergy and the environment on the changing patterns of seasonal allergies due to the changing climate. 1

In a survey of members of the American Thoracic Society, increases in allergic symptoms to plants or mould have been attributed to climate change by over half of physicians (58%). 2

Preliminary evidence suggests that increases in seasonal allergies could be due to a combination of factors, which lead to longer growth seasons, alongside more vigorous growth and increased pollen production. 1

However, whilst laboratory-based studies have shown promising results in predicting the future effects of climate change on allergenic species, the collection of field data on pollen levels, particularly in the USA in comparison with Europe, has been problematic. 1For instance, pollen sampling in the USA is carried out by a collection of different agencies, using different tools and methodologies, which makes comparing different locations difficult. 1

In two surveys, physicians reported a general increase in allergy symptoms across the US, with the only regional variability being the symptoms themselves. 1

Overall, there are gaps in the evidence. 1However, physicians believe that the climate-induced trends in seasonal allergies are real. 1Connecting these trends to a potential impact on public health could be challenging and will require improved access for scientists to pollen data and to health outcomes data that may be correlated to increasing pollen levels. 1

Reference list

  1. Schmidt CW. Pollen overload: seasonal allergies in a changing climate. Environ Health Perspect 2016; 124(4): A70–75.
  2. Sarfaty M, Bloodhart B, Ewart G, Thurston GD, Balmes JR, Guidotti TL, et al. American Thoracic Society member survey on climate change and health. Ann Am Thorac Soc 2015; 12(2): 274–278.