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Another Effect Of Climate Change? A Longer Allergy Season

Wikimedia Commons/Sue Sweeney

Monday was the first day of autumn, and for a lot of allergy sufferers in the Ohio Valley, it serves a reminder that we’re in the midst of ragweed season. These allergens — along with flowering plants that cause problems for some in the spring — are only getting worse as the earth’s climate changes.  

People living in the Ohio Valley region can expect an extended allergy season in the years to come, according to meteorologist Sean Sublette who works for nonprofit Climate Central. Research shows the planet is warming because of a number of factors, including burning fossil fuels. That burning increases greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which overall warms the planet.

“When you have an average warmer temperature, that means you're going to have a little bit more warming toward the beginning of spring and a little more warming going later into the fall,” Sublette said. “That's when your plants are going to start to bloom a little bit earlier, and the ragweed season lasts later into the season.”

When plants bloom earlier and the first freeze is delayed, plants produce pollen for longer. For instance, in Toledo, Ohio, the allergy season was nearly 42 days longer in 2018 than in was in 1970. In Louisville, the 2018 allergy season lasted 19.2 days longer than it did in 1970. 

Louisville allergist Joe Turbyville said people with allergy-induced asthma are also affected by the long allergy season. 

“Those who have allergy-induced asthma like my son does, this is going to raise the risk of having complications with your asthma for a longer time of the year,” Sublette said.

Turbyville said it’s hard to ignore one of the primary factors that causes plants to produce more pollen.

“You sort of get into the whole climate change deal and the effects on the plants,” Turbyville said. “There have been specific studies looking at ragweed, for example, which is a major pollen producer in the fall. And they've shown that when ragweed is exposed to higher temperatures, the plants tend to be larger, and they tend to grow more pollen, which shouldn't be a big surprise.”

What You Can Do

Turbyville and Sublette say there are some things you can do to manage a longer allergy season, and to combat climate change.

  • Keep windows closed
  • Wear a mask when mowing
  • Use over-the-counter medications to manage allergies
  • Keep your thermostat temperature lower in the winter, and higher in the summer.
  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs instead of incandescent light bulbs. 


Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.

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