This allergy season is making people sneeze, cough and sniffle worse than ever, and experts say that climate change is to blame.
With warmer temperatures starting earlier in the year and lasting longer, growing plants are releasing more pollen than they were a decade ago.
Increases in carbon dioxide emissions, too, feed the foliage, and the more robust trees and grasses are able to kick their reproduction into high gear.
But the good news for plants is bad news for Americans, making some 50 million miserable this spring.
As early as January, the primary culprit of our spring allergies – pollen – starts to make its first appearances.
‘But we’re looking at it right now, in the March, April and May time-frame,’ says Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
Pollen is a fine powder released by the male organ of each tree flower in the springtime.
Each particle of that dust contains the male half of the a seed, which lands and lies in wait for the female ovule to drift along to it.
When someone allergic to it comes into contact with pollen – or any other allergen – our bodies recognize that this is not a substance meant for us, and the immune system kicks on.
The body has the right idea, but allergies are an over-reaction.
Pollen is not typically poisonous, but, for those who don’t develop an immunity to it, the body reacts as if the fine dust might be a dangerous pathogen, triggering sneezing, coughing and sniffles.
Different people react to different kinds of pollen, some have more severe allergies than others, and far more pollen is floating around certain parts of the country.
This year, cities in Texas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Ohio, New York and Oklahoma are expected to be hit especially hard.
But the bottom line is that more pollen there is, the the more people will have worse allergies, and this season is set to be a bad one.
‘Swings in temperature and climate change are certainly an issue with respect to allergies,’ says Mendez.
With more ‘severe’ weather changes we get ‘longer growing seasons and warmer weather for longer, as well as releases of pollen happening earlier,’ he adds.
Recent changes to the duration of the growing season have been dramatic.
In 1995, trees only released their pollen for an average of 11 days.
By 2011, the season had nearly tripled to 27 days.
‘Add to that the higher levels of carbon dioxide…plants thrive off of that and it makes them grow for longer and more prolifically,’ says Mendez.
Natural phenomena like decomposition, our own breathing and the ocean all add carbon dioxide (CO2) to the air – but so do processes like the burning of coal, natural gas and oil.