Allergy Season is Getting Longer, and Communities of Color Will Suffer the Most

Microscopic view of pollen from common plants      Image: Dartmouth College Electron Microscope

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

A new study published Monday has found that a second, sneezier plague is ramping up. Allergy seasons have increased in duration by an average of 20 days since 1990. Why? Rising temperatures and an abundance of atmospheric carbon are increasing the amount of pollen in the air, and researchers say the growing problem won’t stop anytime soon.

Why This Matters: It’s not just sniffling and sneezing, it’s a public health risk. Those with respiratory diseases and disorders like asthma will suffer most and the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving more people vulnerable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported:

  • 24.8 million people in the U.S. suffer from asthma.
  • 19 million adults had hay fever in the last 12 months.
  • Seven million children had respiratory allergies in the last 12 months.

Communities of color could be more vulnerable to increased allergens in the air. Black adults were 42 percent more likely than white adults to suffer from asthma, and higher levels of air pollution and COVID cases in Black communities compound the risk of respiratory health issues.

Counting Pollen

Research has suggested that the earlier onset of pollen season correlates with higher hospitalization rates for asthma and student academic performance was even found to suffer during the peak of allergy season. As pollen count continues to accelerate, allergy season will only grow longer. “I have to be on allergy medication eight months of the year and still there are periods when I’m still miserable during peak pollen season,” said Dr. William Anderegg, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Utah who led the study.

“We’re really under-monitoring pollen as an airborne pollutant,” said Dr. Anderegg. Pollen is counted by collecting grains on a “rotarod.” The samples are then observed, counted, and reported in grains per cubic meter of air. To collect data for the study, researchers used measurements from 60 pollen counting stations across the U.S. and used satellite cameras to detect physical changes in the regions surrounding the stations to ensure that development or changes in vegetation didn’t bias the results.

Pollen seems simple enough to measure, but far fewer pollen counting stations exist than air quality monitors. In fact, there are no government pollen trackers, and all existing trackers are operated by private organizations. 19 states, including Massachusetts and Virginia, do not have a National Allergy Bureau certified pollen counter. Without an organized national, or even a state program, there is no uniform way of regularly monitoring changes in pollen count due to climate change.

Up Next

Microplastic Accumulation Could Be 10X Worse Than Previously Thought

Microplastic Accumulation Could Be 10X Worse Than Previously Thought

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer A new study has found that microplastic accumulation may be worse than previously thought and could carry with it the threat of disease. Microplastics could present health risks to the entire food chain, the study said, including to humans. As the world is grappling with the accumulation of single-use plastics during the […]

Continue Reading 494 words
Study Finds Dramatic Jump in Positive COVID-19 Cases Due to Wildfire Smoke

Study Finds Dramatic Jump in Positive COVID-19 Cases Due to Wildfire Smoke

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer As the Delta variant of COVID-19 sweeps across the country, hospitals and public health officials are once again struggling to cope with the fallout. Simultaneously, extreme heat and wildfires have left the Western U.S. (and currently, Eastern ones too) experiencing dangerous levels of wildfire smoke. Now, a new study has now confirmed what […]

Continue Reading 446 words
EPA Approved Use of Forever Chemicals in Fracking Despite Knowledge of Health Risks

EPA Approved Use of Forever Chemicals in Fracking Despite Knowledge of Health Risks

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer An investigation by The New York Times has found that in 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) approved the use of PFAS in fracking despite its concerns of their toxicity. The records, which NYT acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), reveal that the E.P.A.’s scientists raised concern about the “forever chemicals,” saying that they could […]

Continue Reading 569 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.