Some hay fever sufferers can expect prolonged bouts of coughing and sneezing due to global warming, a new study says. Texas seems to be safe for the time being but anyone who suffers from allergies might have a hard time believing it. Climate change has lengthened the ragweed allergy season in states like North Dakota and Minnesota by 16 days and up to 27 days in parts of Canada, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveals. The same researchers published an earlier study showing global warming in urban areas like New York spawned ragweed with five times more pollen than that of their rural cousins. “This is a caution light. Pollen seasons may be getting longer,” said Lewis Ziska, the USDA plant expert who headed the research team. On the flip side, Ziska’s research shows hay fever season getting shorter in Southern states such as Arkansas and Texas. He said climate change has delayed the winter’s first frost in the Northern states, allowing ragweed to grow longer.
The danger with a lengthening season—and perhaps a more intense one—is pollen’s potential to overwhelm immune systems that, up till now, have withstood the onslaught. For many Americans in March, April and May the wet tissues pile up as pollen from trees swirls in the air, clogging noses and tickling eyes without relief. If the above research is shown to be true this would mean the number of those under allergic attack will grow. “With the longer season, with the creeping breadth of the geographic footprint of the season, and with more powerful plants producing more pollen, it’s a triple threat,” according to Scientific American. “Now you’ve got yourself a much wider population that could potentially be affected that might not have been affected before.”
Some years are worse than others, and pollen forecasters try to keep the public up to date on how the season progresses. So, how do we know when it’s the “worst in years”? There are no nationwide government pollen trackers, but private companies do monitoring. SDI Health LLC, the company that runs the popular Web site pollen.com, has 480 pollen monitoring stations in the United States, said Gerry Kress, the company’s owner.
Ziska and his colleagues based their results on 15 years of pollen data. Hay fever allergies afflict 35million Americans annually. Of course, 15 years is still a fairly short period of time for researchers to draw long-term conclusions about how climate change will impact allergies in the future. But there’s already been a doubling of asthma in the U.S. since 1980, and a longer and earlier spring—and more pollen—won’t help.
For now the best advice is to carry on with your usual springtime business. If you are an allergy sufferer, having 4 less days as proposed by Ziska won’t make enough of a difference to be noticeable. If you’ve never suffered from allergies in the past and are feeling under the weather as the months go on it might be a good idea to look into some antihistamines.
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