Sunday, April 10, 2022

Prevent the sneeze, save the trees.

"Think globally, act locally," was a popular phrase when I worked for Greenpeace for five years before starting medical school. As I write this blog about climate change and hay fever, I'm wondering if cleaning down my computer, which I've just sneezed all over because of my seasonal allergies, counts as following this aphorism? (Can a tissue be used to clean a computer screen?)

Actually, my allergies seem to have gotten worse in recent years. My patients feel the same way. I seem to be prescribing nasal steroids and antihistamines more frequently than in the past, advising over-the-counter eye drops, and discussing techniques to avoid allergies. Are individuals more stressed, working longer hours, and sleeping less, making them more prone to allergies? Is it possible that the allergies are making things worse? Could the worsening of climate change explain why the steady rise in allergy and asthma rates over the previous few decades?

There is more pollen and the pollen season is longer.

Seasonal allergies are most commonly triggered by trees in the spring, grasses in the summer, and ragweed in the fall. The increasing number of "frost-free days" (the time between the last frost in the spring and the first frost in the fall) gives people more time to grow sensitized to pollen — the first stage in developing allergies — and then allergic to it. It's no surprise that so many more of my patients are complaining of itchy eyes, runny noses, and wheezing.

Because of climate change, spring is increasingly beginning earlier and fall is finishing later in many parts of the United States, allowing more time for plants and trees to grow, flower, and produce pollen. As a result, the allergy season is extended. According to a Rutgers University study, pollen season began three days earlier in the contiguous United States on average between the 1990s and 2010, with a 40% rise in the annual total of daily airborne pollen. A more recent study in North America reveals growing pollen concentrations and extended pollen seasons from 1990 to 2018, owing mostly to climate change.

Pollen potency is growing as a result of climate change.

In addition to prolonged allergy seasons, allergy sufferers are concerned about climate change. Plants grow larger and generate more pollen when exposed to higher levels of carbon dioxide. According to some research, ragweed pollen, a major cause of allergies for many people, becomes up to 1.7 times more strong in increased carbon dioxide environments. The global distribution of pollen-producing plants is expanding as climates rise; for example, ragweed species can now live in previously unfriendly climes due to rising temperatures.

Other unfavourable effects of climate change that we are currently seeing include coastal flooding as polar ice sheets melt, causing sea levels to increase, and more extreme weather, such as storms and droughts. Mold outbreaks are becoming more common as coastal flooding increases, which can trigger or aggravate allergic reactions and asthma. More severe weather events, such as thunderstorms, are connected with an increase in ER visits for asthma attacks. (It's unclear why this is the case, but one idea proposes that the high winds associated with thunderstorms whip up a lot of pollen.) Allergies and asthma are tightly linked, with many individuals, including this author, suffering from "allergic asthma," which is expected to increase as climate change develops.

So, what can an allergic person do?

Even as our climate changes, there are things you can do to limit the impact of seasonal allergies and prevent sneezing and itchy eyes.

Work with your doctor to manage your allergies with medications such as antihistamines, nasal steroids, eye drops, and, if necessary, asthma treatments. Inform your doctor if you are taking any other medications that may interfere with over-the-counter allergy medications such as Benadryl or Sudafed.
Discuss with your doctor if allergy testing, a referral to an allergist, or preventative methods such as allergy injections or sublingual immunotherapy, gradually condition your immune system not to respond to environmental allergens by exposing your body in a regulated manner.
Keep an eye on the pollen level in your area and avoid prolonged outside activity during peak pollen season and peak pollen days. However, most doctors would agree that cutting back on exercise, hobbies, or time in nature is unhealthy, so this is a mediocre answer at best. On high-pollen days, you could organize an inside fitness regimen.

After being outside, wash your clothes and take a bath or shower to remove pollen.

Close the windows during allergy season and on windy days.

Wear a mask while going outside on pollen-filled days, and keep your car windows rolled up when driving.

If your home has been flooded, keep an eye out for mold. You can employ mold removal services to evaluate your home for mold and remove it if it is deemed harmful.

Reduce your carbon footprint as much as possible by planting trees. Despite the fact that they are responsible for some of the pollen that many of us choke and gag on each spring, summer, and fall, trees benefit the ecosystem by taking in carbon dioxide and creating the oxygen we breathe, so improving air quality. Even as allergy sufferers, we must protect and plant trees since climate change is undoubtedly the greatest threat that we as a species now face.



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