Thick pollen settles over Atlanta each spring. (Brooke Novak/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)
Thick pollen settles over Atlanta each spring. (Brooke Novak/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Akshat Rathi, QUARTZ

( — Spring is time for the glorious beginning of new things. Most people celebrate it, but not the many millions who are hit with sneezing fits and itchy eyes.

And things are going to get worse—not just for those who suffer from a pollen allergy, but also for those who never had allergies before.

A quick primer on why pollen causes allergies in the first place: Although pollen is benign, your immune system treats it like it would any foreign body, attacking the microscopic pieces of plant matter with antibodies released by the immune system. To aid this process, the body releases the neurotransmitter histamine, which enables more of the immunity-boosting cells to enter the blood stream, but also causes inflammation in the form of a runny nose and itchy eyes.

Now climate change is lengthening the pollen season and claiming new victims. The increased level of carbon dioxide in the air has made spring come earlier and is also changing pollen release patterns. A 2014 report by National Climate Assessment, a US government agency, says:

Climate change, resulting in more frost-free days and warmer seasonal air temperatures, can contribute to shifts in flowering time and pollen initiation from allergenic plant species, and increased CO2 by itself can elevate production of plant-based allergens. Higher pollen concentrations and longer pollen seasons can increase allergic sensitizations and asthma episodes, and diminish productive work and school days.



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