Sneezing? Itchy, watery eyes, and a runny nose? You may sound like a walking Zyrtec ad, but if your allergies have been especially rough this season, you’re not alone. A study published in the journal GeoHealth on Wednesday showed the culprit could be climate change. Apparently, milder, warmer winters cause oak trees to expel more potent pollen, wreaking havoc on your senses and sinuses.
Though this wouldn’t be the first study to show a correlation between climate change and heightened allergy symptoms. A study published last August in Climatewire showed conditions will only get worse for seasonal allergy sufferers as a globally warming climate releases more pollen each year. Most studies blame escalating carbon dioxide levels for the recent uptick in pollen production, which in turn causes a range of unpleasant symptoms in people. Some cases can be so severe sufferers have difficulty breathing and need to be admitted to the emergency room.
The lead author of the GeoHealth study, Susan Anenberg, told Scientific American, “We believe that this is a health risk that has been underappreciated and is likely worsening.” Aided by a team of researchers, Anenberg came to her conclusions by looking at emergency room records and tallying the number of asthma-related cases, a common side effect of worsening seasonal allergies. In a single year, this health problem alone caused more than 20,000 American ER visits and $10.4 million in damages.
After zeroing in on pollen-related ER visits that took place in the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast between 1994 and 2010, Anenberg concluded these cases could increase 10 percent by 2090 if global warming goes unimpeded. While the study only looked at the eastern half of the United States and had incomplete ER records in some cases, it still goes to show how far-reaching the effects of climate change can be. Perhaps year-round runny, itchy, watery eyes will finally encourage us to make the climate a top priority.