Why your allergies get worse every year


These spiney spheres are plant pollen, as
seen under a microscope. They’re the culprit behind most seasonal
allergies. Pollen can cause your immune system to kick
into overdrive because your body sees the pollen as a harmful intruder. As a result, the body produces histamines. Normally, they promote healing by increasing
blood flow and inflammation. But they can lead to the nasty symptoms we
associate with allergies — like sneezing, runny noses, and watery eyes. Generally, people who suffer from allergies
have it bad for several weeks during certain plants’ growing seasons. But because of climate change, the level of
pollen in the air is getting much worse. And that’s bad news — whether you suffer
from allergies or not. In order to grow and produce pollen, plants
need to generate energy through photosynthesis. That requires water, sunlight, and a third necessary ingredient, carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide exists naturally in the atmosphere,
but as we burn fossil fuels like coal in power plants or gasoline in our cars, we’re putting
more and more CO2 into the air. The more carbon dioxide there is in the air,
the more plants grow and produce pollen. Take a look at this graph. These bars are the level of carbon dioxide
in the atmosphere between 1996 and 2015. And this line is the amount of pollen produced
per ragweed plant, a common source of allergens. As carbon dioxide increased, the ragweed produced
more and more pollen. And pollen is an important part of a plant’s
reproductive cycle. So more pollen means more seeds, which means
more plants producing more pollen the following season. But CO2 is increasing the level of pollen
in another way as well. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. And it’s called that because it traps the
sun’s heat energy in the Earth’s atmosphere and is helping warm the planet — sort of
like a greenhouse. As the climate warms, there are more days
above freezing, which means more time that plants are active and producing pollen. This graph shows the number of days with above-freezing temperatures in the US over the past 120 years. In the past 50 years, the US growing season
has increased by over 10 days, on average. And this isn’t happening at the same rate everywhere. This map shows the increase in pollen season
for ragweed between 1995 and 2015. While some places, like Texas, didn’t see
much change in their ragweed pollen season, most places — especially those in the northern
US and southern Canada — saw pollen season increase by almost a month. And this isn’t just happening in North America. Overall, most places around the world are
seeing longer growing seasons — and, as a result, more days with pollen as well. Pollen levels and allergies are only going
to get worse from here if carbon emissions continue the way they are. This is the current production level of grass
pollen, another common allergen source. By 2060, that level is expected to double. And by 2085, that amount will have more than
tripled. While allergies can be annoying for the 1
in 5 Americans that suffers from them, they can usually be kept at bay with over-the-counter drugs. But in some, allergic reactions can lead to
severe reactions like anaphylaxis, where blood pressure drops and airways start swelling
shut. And pollen grains can wreak havoc on people’s
lungs, even if they don’t suffer from seasonal allergies. In the US, Asthma attacks induced by pollen
have lead to more than 20,000 emergency room visits per year. So if for no other reason than to protect
your sinuses, it’s important to reduce the amount of CO2 we’re adding to the atmosphere. It can help curb how much we’re warming
the planet and it can help slow the pollen-ocalypse. If your best strategy to avoid seasonal allergies is to stay indoors all spring, then you might want a way to stay connected and that couldn’t be easier to do from the safety of your pollen-free bunker. Hover makes it simple to buy interesting domains with great extensions like .earth or .space. Even if you don’t need your own domain, like “[email protected]” And right now you can get 10% off of your first purchase by going to Hover.com/vox. Hover doesn’t impact our editorial, but their support makes videos like these possible.

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