Role Climate Change Plays Now in Increasing Allergy Rates

Climate change, manifested in rising temperatures, crippling pollution, devastating floods, and intense droughts, is affecting millions of individuals worldwide. The increase in the rates of pollution-linked respiratory allergies like asthma, rhinitis, and hay fever during recent years can be partially attributed to the effects of climate change. However, while the individual effects of rising temperatures and air pollution on these allergic diseases have been studied, a comprehensive overview of how these factors affect each other had been hitherto unavailable.      

In a review published in Chinese Medical Journal on 5 July 2020, researchers have summarized the complexities of how climate change, air pollution, and airborne allergens like pollen and spores synergistically contribute to respiratory diseases. They discuss how climate change, including extreme temperatures, can directly affect the respiratory tract and cause allergic diseases. Additionally, they also highlight the role of natural disasters like thunderstorms, floods, wildfires, and dust storms in increasing the generation and distribution of air-borne allergens and reducing air quality, thereby adversely affecting human health. A summary of the article is presented in a video on YouTube.

Overall, the review warns against potentially greater health risks in the future owing to the reciprocative and multiplicative effects of heat and air-borne allergens on air pollution. “Our projections show that the levels of particulate matter and ozone in the air will increase with climate warming, and rising temperatures and CO2 levels could in turn elevate the levels of air-borne allergens, increasing the risk of allergic respiratory diseases,” says Prof. Cun-Rui Huang, who led the study.

Together, this report serves as a call-to-action for research, development, and advocative efforts from healthcare professionals, laying the foundation for more effective public health strategies. “Simple urban planning measures like creating low air pollution buffer zones around residential areas, planting of non-allergenic plants, and pruning hedges before flowering can decrease toxic exposure and reduce health risks. Weather monitoring and warning systems could also help authorities protect vulnerable populations such as urban residents and children from such diseases,” explains Prof. Huang, adding that such approaches will be crucial for reducing the health impact of respiratory allergic diseases in the future.

Indeed, a collective effort is needed to uphold the individual right to inhale clean air.

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