Well, yes. Air pollution, and the global warming it causes, does make your allergies worse. Not so good for the 36 million Americans who deal with seasonal allergies. Let’s explore this additional way that air pollution continues to harm human health.
You can be allergic to almost anything, but seasonal allergies specifically refer to our reaction to pollen that’s put in the air by plants. Plants use pollen to procreate, and one of the ways they get their pollen to other plants is through the wind and air. Unfortunately for those of us with allergies, breathing that pollen causes a reaction that isn’t pleasant: coughing, itchy and watery eyes, and swollen sinuses, to name a few. For some, it’s more than merely irritating, as a severe allergic reaction can cause restriction of breathing passages.
How does pollution affect your allergies?
- Air pollution makes for climate change. And when we say “climate change”, we’re almost always talking about the climate getting warmer. As you can easily surmise, the warmer the climate is, the better most plants grow. Warmer air means a longer growing season, and that means more pollen in the air. A shorter and warmer winter means trees, grass, and weeds all grow faster.
- One of the effects of more pollutants in our air is the increase of carbon dioxide in our air. While CO2 isn’t so great for helping humans breathe, it’s what plants need for growth. CO2 is to plants what fish food is for your goldfish: food. And just like that goldfish will continue to get bigger the more you feed it, the more CO2 that plants receive, the bigger and more populous they (and their pollen) become.
- This combination of pollen and pollution is bad. Depending on where you live, might be really bad. Pollen (especially from ragweed) and ozone levels tend to go up at the same time, and both are made higher by warmer temperatures. Both ozone and pollen worsen respiratory allergies and may play a role in triggering asthma attacks. 40% of Americans live in counties where pollen and ozone are both high.
What can you do about it?
- Cut your carbon footprint. It sounds simple, but of course it isn’t. But even minor changes over time and by enough people can have a major impact.
- Reduce the amount of pollen that makes its way into your home. Laundering your clothes, even when they aren’t outwardly dirty, can accomplish this. So can keeping your pets clean, leaving your shoes at the door, and running a wet rag through your hair in allergy season. Many allergies sufferers have found that running the air conditioner and closing all windows in the home helps too.
- Talk to your doctor. Might your medication need to be adjusted throughout the year, depending on pollutant or pollen levels?
All of us have a tendency to put off actions that don’t benefit us in the short term. I believe it’s one of the reasons why drastic change in pollution levels has been so slow in coming. Why worry about something that won’t affect me, even though it’ll greatly affect others in 50-100 years? But allergies are a short and long term problem that’ll get better as we make progress in dropping pollution levels and stopping climate change.
The next time you reach for the tissues or your allergy meds, why not consider what you’re doing right now to improve pollution levels?