Mzansi, brace yourself, allergy sufferers are likely to be hit harder and longer due to human-made climate change. This according to a recent research study conducted by the University of Michigan in the United States.
Thanks to rising temperatures and increasing CO2 levels, the annual amount of pollen emitted each year could increase up to 200%, says Yingxiao Zhang, the author of the study published in Nature Communications.
“Pollen-induced respiratory allergies are getting worse with climate change,” says Zhang.
Zhang and a team of researchers examined 15 of the most common pollen types and how their production would be impacted by changes in temperatures and precipitation.
Grass pollen allergy is a common cause of nasal symptoms such as itching, sneezing, congestion or a watery, streaming nose. It can also cause a worsening of asthma.
Meanwhile right here in Mzansi, more pollen hanging around in the grass season means big troubles for Elizabeth Monegi (29) from Cape Town. “It’s like I can physically take my fingers and scratch my sinuses for some relief,” she says.
Monegi is originally from the Free State and says she noticed her allergies getting worse when she moved to Cape Town five years ago.
“I am based in Atlantis and it is a highly pollenated area. That is when my sinus started getting active because of the plants and everything that is going around here.”
@mrs_lizzybee Sinus be killing me sham #fyp #foryoupage ♬ original sound – lizzy Bee
To treat her allergies, Monegi usually turns to over-the-counter medications like antihistamines and nasal spray. “At first I used to treat it with those nasal sprays you normally get ko bo [at] Clicks and stuff, the problem is it only unblocks your nose, it doesn’t help the fact that I cannot go out in the morning when the pollen is super active.”
Allergies to airborne pollen can be more than just a seasonal inconvenience, says Monegi. Allergic reactions to pollen also cause her to snore, and this puts a dampener on her love life.
What’s climate got to do with it?
Is climate change truly the bad guy? Yes, says biological sciences professor William Anderegg. In a separate study led by Anderegg, researchers found that human-made climate change plays more of a significant role in pollen season than we think.
Previous studies have found that increases in temperature and carbon dioxide in our atmosphere can cause more pollen production in greenhouse experiments.
“Climate change isn’t something far away and in the future,” says Anderegg. “It is already here in every spring breath we take and increasing human misery. The biggest question is are we up to tackling it?”
According to the Allergy Foundation of South Africa, the main grass season in Mzansi runs from spring to midsummer. Allergies are tied to respiratory health, with implications for viral infections, doctors’ visits and can even affect your child’s school performance.
Meanwhile, Zhang says, “Our findings can be a starting point for further investigations into the consequence of climate change on pollen and corresponding health effects.”
Here’s how you can stay protected
According to The Real Pollen Count, there are ways to manage allergy symptoms especially if you are a lover of the outdoors. The Real Pollen Count is a pollen tracking system developed by the UCT Lung Institute Allergy and Immunology Clinic.
These four tips could help allergy sufferers avoid serious symptoms:
- Eye protection: Eyewear like sunglasses or goggles can help prevent pollen from entering your eyes.
- Buff up: Wearing a light buff over your mouth and nose can shield you from inhaling airborne pollen grains.
- Keep hydrated: Hay fever can cause dehydration.
- Good hygiene is fundamental: Make sure to shower and change clothes as soon as you enter your home. Pollen can stick to your clothes and skin and can have a lasting allergenic effect if not remove.