For the past few years, I have gone through spring and summer in a perpetual state of being ‘stuffed up’. Out of control sneezing and a constantly runny nose make me go through vast quantities of Kleenex. What I and many others are suffering through is allergy season, and it’s getting worse. More than 50 million Americans suffer from various pollen allergies, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, and perhaps surprisingly, the numbers might be highest and the symptoms the worst in urban areas.

New research says not only is the amount of pollen growing every allergy season, but the season is actually getting longer and starting earlier. This has been the trend since 1990 and is happening because of something that seems to be dictating a lot of changes to our planet, climate change.

The combination of warming air and higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has caused North American pollen season to start three weeks earlier and to have about 20 percent more pollen. It’s almost like plants are saying ‘well, conditions are favorable so I will put out a lot of pollen to reproduce more.’ They make these decisions to allocate more energy to reproduction. So, they grow larger flowers, which produce more pollen. Plants also tend to shift their flowering to start earlier in the year. The greatest pollen increases come from trees, as opposed to grasses and weeds such as ragweed.

Allergies are not just a case of the sniffles; they can have serious effects on public health, including asthma and other respiratory conditions. Studies show that students do less well in school during peak pollen season. When our lungs and respiratory tract are already inflamed, that tends to make us more vulnerable to other types of respiratory viruses like the common cold. This is an ominous finding in the time of the coronavirus pandemic.

The outlook is not a happy one. As the temperature continues to go up due to human caused climate change, we can expect the situation to get worse. Meanwhile, climate change has taken on personal importance to me, causing misery during peak pollen season.