Climate Change Is Turning Allergy Season Into Hell, and It's Getting Worse
It's not just you, allergy seasons are getting worse. Not only that but more people are poised to start suffering from hay fever due to climate change, according to a new study from the University of Anglia published in Environmental Health Perspectives. Researchers say that the number of bleary-eyed, snot-nosed hay fever victims in Europe could double over the next 35 years.
While 35 years feels like a big window, 40 percent of Europeans suffer from hay fever at some point in their lives already. Doubling that could put the total number upwards of 77 million. The researchers believe that climate change will be responsible for two-thirds of this increase. In addition to more people suffering from hay fever, symptoms are expected to become more severe due to a combination of higher ragweed pollen concentrations and a longer ragweed pollen season.
Some of that is expected even outside of rising global temperatures. Ragweed is an invasive species that is resistant to many herbicides. Just one plant has the potential to produce one billion seeds per year. That's not a typo. One billion. Warmer temperatures and higher carbon dioxide levels are providing the plant even more fertile conditions to spread its reign of terror.
Dr. Iain Lake, the paper's lead researcher, said in a statement, "Pollen allergy is a major public health problem globally but it has not been known what sort of an impact climate change will have. This is the first study to quantify what the consequences of climate change on pollen allergy may be."
The investigation looked at climate change's effect on ragweed plant distribution, plant productivity, pollen dispersal, and the resulting allergic impact. As a part of the study, they created maps of estimated pollen counts and combined them with population maps and research on allergy levels within those populations. "Our research shows that ragweed pollen allergy will become a common health problem across Europe, expanding into areas where it is currently uncommon," says Dr. Lake. "The annual economic burden of allergic disease in the EU is already estimated at between €55 billion and €151 billion so increases on this level will bring a hefty price tag.
"Management of this invasive plant could reduce the amount of people affected to about 52 million (from an estimated 77 million in Europe), while a scenario which sees very rapid plant invasion would increase the amount of people affected to around 107 million. The control of ragweed is important for public health and as an adaptation strategy against the impacts of climate change."
Hay fever is one thing, but the study may indicate that similar increases for allergies not included in the study are possible. "It is also important to add that climate change consequences will not be restricted to ragweed — and a range of other pollen-producing species are likely to be affected," he said. "Our methods provide a framework for other studies investigating the impacts of climate change on pollen allergy for other species."
As if climate change wasn't already causing enough problems, it looks like all future summer conversations will be punctuated by hay fever-y sneezes and booger-y handshakes. Great.
Dustin Nelson is a News Writer with Thrillist. He holds a Guinness World Record, but has never met the fingernail lady. He’s written for Sports Illustrated, Men’s Journal, The Rumpus, and other digital wonderlands. Follow him @dlukenelson.