Itchy eyes and runny nose? Climate change could be responsible

A woman with a runny nose

The study found that even under moderately warming conditions, the pollen season in the United States would start earlier and last longer, with higher average pollen concentrations across much of the country.

According to a Rutgers study, the distribution of allergen pollen may change as the world continues to warm.

A team of researchers from Rutgers Institute of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Computer modeling was used to study the impact of climate change on the distribution of oak and ragweed pollen, two common allergens, in the contiguous United States.

The study published in limits in sensitivity, found that by 2050, climate change is expected to significantly increase pollen levels in the air, with some of the largest increases occurring in regions where pollen is less common. The team was led by Panos Georgopoulos, professor of environmental and occupational health and justice at Rutgers School of Public Health.

said Georgopoulos, who is also director of the Computational Chemodynamics Lab at Rutgers and faculty at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “At the same time, pollen production and its impact on allergic diseases are increasing due to climate change, and this is one of the few studies to predict this trend in the future.”

Previous efforts to link pollen indices to climate change have been limited by the paucity of data. For example, there are about 80 pollen sampling stations in the United States, operated by a variety of private and public agencies that use different sampling methods.

To overcome this challenge, the researchers adapted the Multiscale Community Air Quality Modeling System, an open-source tool operated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to simulate the distributions of allergens acorn and ragweed pollen for historical (2004) and future (2047) conditions.

The results show that even under moderately warming conditions, pollen season will start earlier and last longer across the United States, with higher average pollen concentrations across much of the country. Average concentrations of oak pollen can rise by more than 40 percent in the northeast and southwest, and average concentrations of ragweed can jump by more than 20 percent in these areas.

Regional shifts in pollen are also observed. In parts of Nevada and North Texas, oak pollen levels could double by mid-century, while Massachusetts and Virginia could see an 80 percent increase in ragweed pollen by 2050.

The pollen research was part of an ongoing project by the Rutgers Ozone Research Center, which is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and New Jersey to study how climate change affects air quality in the state. The bulk of this work examines the state’s struggles with ground-level ozone, a by-product of fossil fuel combustion that can damage the lungs.

“New Jersey’s air quality will be negatively affected by climate change, both in terms of anthropogenic pollution and increased pollen levels,” Georgopoulos said. For people with asthma, exposure to pollen and irritants like ozone increases the odds of developing a respiratory disease. To protect the most vulnerable, we need to understand how these irritants will behave in an increasingly warming world.”

Reference: “Modeling past and future spatiotemporal distributions of airborne pollen across the contiguous United States” By Xiang Ren, Ting Cai, Zhongyuan Mi, Leonard Bielory, Christopher G. Nolte, and Panos G. Georgopoulos, Oct. 25, 2022, Available Here. limits in sensitivity.
DOI: 10.3389/falgy.2022.959594

The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

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