PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – If it seems like you’re itching your eyes, sneezing or even coughing more due to allergies in recent years, it might not just be in your head. Experts say climate change may be causing longer and more intense allergy seasons.
Researchers around the country, from Harvard University to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, say that warmer weather patterns extend growing seasons, resulting in plants blooming for longer periods of time and therefore releasing more pollen.
A study published by researchers at the University of Utah found that human-caused climate change has lengthened pollen seasons by more than 20 days in some places.
Dr. Anne Toledo, a Portland-based family physician and chief of urgent care for Kaiser Permanente Northwest, helps people prepare for the effects of climate change, including the longer allergy seasons.
“If you’re someone who really suffers from air quality or pollen counts, that can make a huge impact on how many months of the year you’re suffering, and how intense those symptoms are, how often you have to go to your doctor,” she said.
Toledo said it’s not just longer allergy seasons in general that can cause people to suffer, but also days when the heat is really intense, like during a heat dome – when the atmosphere traps hot air over a region for a period of time.
Heat domes are becoming more common as climate change accelerates.
“Connected with the heat and lack of rain, you have worsening air quality, right? So higher particulate [matter] in the air, and you can have fires connected with heat, so that falls under extreme events,” Toledo said.
Health experts also say inhaling particulate pollutants from wildfire smoke can cause allergies or asthma to flare up.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, there are things people who live with asthma and allergies can do to reduce the impact of climate change.
The first is to ask their doctor for advice on how to avoid places or situations that can cause an asthma attack or allergic reactions. Second, people can check the air quality index where they live before leaving home to see if the air quality conditions will affect them.
The last thing the AAFA says people can do is to advocate and support policy makers to take action to reduce climate change and its impact on human health.
Toledo said doctors like herself and city and state officials can do more to help people by creating materials that are culturally relevant and that are available in several languages to help inform people of the risks climate change poses to their health. That way, she said, they’ll know what’s going on and how to prepare.