Climate change spells tough times for allergy sufferers

Today, 20% of the Swiss population suffers from hay fever, compared to only 1% 100 years ago. Keystone / Angelika Warmuth

The pollen season is starting earlier and is growing more intense every year as a result of rising temperatures, according to a major study.

This content was published on April 1, 2021 - 14:01

The Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) in collaboration with the Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology (MeteoSwiss) has found that rising temperatures over the last 30 years has had a considerable influence on the onset, duration and intensity of the pollen season.

“For at least four allergenic species, the tree pollen season now starts earlier than 30 years ago – sometimes even before January,” said Marloes Eeftens, Principal Investigator and Group Leader at Swiss TPH. The duration and intensity of the season have also increased for several species meaning that people with allergies suffer longer and react stronger to higher concentrations.

On top of this, pollen allergies are becoming more and more widespread. Today, 20% of the Swiss population suffers from hay fever, compared to only 1% 100 years ago, said Swiss TPH. The study suggests this could be because of environmental changes such as urbanisation and hygiene habits.

The study, published on Wednesday, is considered the most comprehensive investigation into pollen due to climate change done in Switzerland. The researchers analysed pollen data collected between 1990 and 2020 at 14 monitoring stations in Switzerland and studied pollen concentrations of 12 different plant species. Previous studies have looked at single species or only a few locations.

Beyond itching eyes and frequent sneezing, pollen allergies can also have negative impacts on the cardiovascular system and quality of life in general. Eeftens said that there is little we can do to prevent pollen release from plants, but that the study could help inform urban planning, specifically highly allergenic plants for parks and other densely populated areas.

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