Climate Change Sounding Like a Box of Tissues

Achy joints, killer toothaches, the feeling of being head-butted and other health woes are just some of the claims that are possibly caused by the weather but a bit challenging to prove.

In recent years, scientists have become increasingly interested in attempting to understand how various weather extremes and changing patterns affect our health. And through thorough observations, many experts have discovered that weather indeed does account for some adverse symptoms.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), climate change is expected to affect air quality through several pathways including production of allergens and increase regional concentrations of ozone, fine particles, and dust. Some of these pollutants can directly cause respiratory disease.

While there are a number of factors involved, including the hygiene, one hypothesis appears to be climate change. A research from 2008 also suggests that global warming will also exacerbate existing conditions in susceptible populations, such as children or the elderly.

NIEHS enumerated the impacts of climate change on air quality and these include increase ground level ozone and fine particle concentrations, which can trigger a variety of reactions including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion as well as reduce lung function and cause inflammation of the lungs, increase in rate of ozone formation due to higher temperatures, and increased sunlight, and increase in frequency of droughts, leading to increased dust and particulate matter.

A feature archive reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD, ragweed, a plant present in America, stimulates allergic reactions and can also narrow the airways of asthmatic, triggering wheezing symptoms. Ragweed reproduces by releasing pollen-encased sperm cells into the wind. A ragweed pollen contains a protein called Amb a 1, which is the chemical that causes your immune system to overreach, and the more Amb a 1 you inhale, the more extreme your symptoms are likely to be. This pollen causes sneezing, coughing, itchiness, swelling and oral tingling.

In more than 20 years of study, Lewis Ziska, Ph.D., a weed ecologist at the Agriculture Research Service division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has examined plant traits under all sorts of circumstances. He has found out that climate change causes ragweed to grow faster, flower earlier, and produce significantly greater pollen. So as the climate change advances, sneezing season will likely get earlier every year. And unfortunately, for these hay fever sufferers, the suffering will likely get worse.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the main factors related to climate change fuel increase in allergens are the Carbon Dioxide, the heat trapping-gas that is the primary cause of our warming planet, increases the growth rate of many plants and increases the amount and potency of pollen. Back to your elementary school science class, carbon dioxide is among the four fundamentals for plant growth; the others include water, nutrients, and light. Carbon dioxide is so good at producing extra nutrients for some plants, including ones like ragweed, that are most problematic for hay fever, that even a small increase will have a big effect. Another one is the Rising Temperatures that extend the growing season and the duration of allergy seasons. And an extended season alters the amounts of blooms and fungal spores that are known to exacerbate allergy symptoms.

While warm temperatures and high carbon dioxide are ideal growing conditions for all plants, allergenic plants, such as grasses and weeds, are the fastest growing and most adaptable so they will receive the most benefit. As what Ziska said, “The influence of climate change to plant behavior adds an additional factor to the number of people suffering from allergy and asthma.” The success of these plants is a bad news to those living with allergies.

An article from the Fight the Cause of Allergy.org states that besides plants, the warming climate will also have an impact on the distribution of insects, especially allergenic ones such as wasps and fire ants. With the extended warm seasons, wasps are coming out earlier and staying out longer, increasing the chances that allergenic patients will encounter them. However, as the country gradually warms, less and less of this ground will experience extensive freezing, clearing the way for their upward expansion.

The World Health Organization estimates that 300 million people globally have asthma, with 250, 000 dying from the disease each year. So, what can be done to help millions of sneezing, watery-eyed patients? Any action taken to control rising carbon dioxide levels might at least help stem the increase in global allergy rates. Bryan Walsh, a Time Magazine writer says that the global asthma epidemic shows no signs of abating, and in a warmer world, effective treatments for allergies will likely become even more important. But for the meantime, the only thing we have to lose is our breath.

With this continuing problem, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have given some ways of adapting and mitigating with this challenge: Mitigate short-lived contamination species, both air pollutants and greenhouse gases, such as ozone or black carbon (examples include urban tree covers or rooftop gardens in urban settings), decrease the use of vehicles miles traveled to reduce ozone precursors, utilize alternative transportation options, such as walking or biking, and increase the use of air condition which can alleviate the health effects of  exposure to chronic or acute heat.

Climate Change might be seen as a topic surrounded by complexities for it deals with uncertain strategies making it difficult for the majority to make conclusive statements about it. However, repeated situations come out putting forward the significant relationship between the changing climate and allergy symptoms. For people who suffer from allergies, climate change also sound like a box of tissues.

 

REFERENCES:

Union of Concerned Scientist

Fight the Cause of Allergy.org

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

WebMD Feature Archive

http://www.onearth.org/earthwire/climate-change-sneezing-wheezing

http://www.timw.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1841125,00.htm

 

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