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

“Tick Time Bomb” to Explode in California This Summer

“Tick Time Bomb” to Explode in California This Summer

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer The Weather Channel broadcast that this summer, the U.S will be a “tick time-bomb,” in that ticks will afflict much broader swathes of the country than in years previous. Even in dry states like California, which is in a historic drought, researchers have been seeing more ticks than ever, […]

Continue Reading 497 words
Infrastructure Could Include Bike and Pedestrian Paths As Well As Highways

Infrastructure Could Include Bike and Pedestrian Paths As Well As Highways

Greenways are bike paths that often serve as multi-use, car-free ways to navigate a city. Right now, the U.S. network “comprises a similarly haphazard collection of park-like bicycle- and pedestrian-oriented paths,” as CityLab reports, but that could change if environmental and transportation advocates can land $10 billion for a Greenway Stimulus in the infrastructure deal being negotiated in Congress right now.

Why This Matters: Getting people out of cars and into other modes of getting around is one of the best ways to ramp down carbon emissions in the transportation sector as well as ramp up health and fitness.

Continue Reading 498 words

Interview of the Week: Dr. Neil Vora

Preventing and preparing for pandemics is now a crucial task for world leaders. A crucial part of preventing pandemics is the protection of nature and the conservation of biodiversity. This week we had a chance to ask Conservation International’s new pandemic prevention fellow, Dr. Neil Vora, about why safeguarding our natural world is so important […]

Continue Reading 155 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.