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Pollen, climate change and why you should treat seasonal allergy

11.5.2022 Living with Asthma
Untreated allergy may lead to asthma

If you are suffering from pollen allergy, you are definitely not alone. Allergic rhinitis, caused by pollen, mold, animal skin or other triggers, is a common condition. In the US and Europe, 10 to 30% of adults and perhaps even more children suffer from it. General symptoms include a runny nose, congestion, coughing, sneezing, and itchiness in the skin and face area. If symptoms are mild or intermittent, one can get used to having them, and not think much of it. Taking medication daily might feel unnecessary or cause unwanted side effects. For as many 1 out of 3 children and 2 out of 3 adults, current pharmaceutical options to treat allergy do not even work. If so, immunotherapy is a good option.

It is important to treat seasonal allergy or other causes of allergic rhinitis. Studies have shown that untreated allergic rhinitis is associated with a higher risk of developing asthma. In fact, leaving it untreated might even quadruple the chances of developing asthma later on. And with asthma, a new set of challenges is often brought to the table.

Addressing asthma alone isn’t enough

Pollen is a known aggravator of COPD and asthma symptoms. Most asthmatics have what is classified as allergic asthma. In allergic asthma, the muscles in the airways tighten because of how the immune system reacts to pollen. The prevalence of allergic asthma reduces by age — almost 90% of children with asthma and approximately half of adults have it. There is also a seasonal subtype of asthma, where asthmatic symptoms are brought on only when certain allergens are present. 

Allergic rhinitis is equally essential to treat if you already have asthma. Asthma patients with untreated allergic rhinitis need more medical attention. Treating comorbid allergic rhinitis could reduce asthma-related healthcare, particularly emergency room visits and hospitalisations, by up to 80%. This is why the Global Strategy for Asthma Management and Prevention recommends an evaluation of comorbid allergic rhinitis in asthmatics. Fortunately, there are treatments that target both asthma and allergy.

More pollen in the air, for more days

According to a recently published research article, climate change’s impact on pollen might be “one of the most important consequences for human health”. The severity of allergic reactions, and the number of people affected by allergy, are expected to be on the rise. However, the consequences of climate change are complex and interrelated, and it is difficult to predict its exact impact on allergies. 

Climate change may affect allergy due to several mechanisms. It can increase pollen production, the range of allergenic plants, and the quantity of allergenic protein in individual pollen grains. Increased temperature also leads to earlier pollination and longer duration of pollination. 

This is expected to lead to longer periods of allergy symptoms which are more severe, and to more sensitization especially among young children. One study demonstrated that pollen season duration would have increased on average by 0.9 days per year in the northern hemisphere. According to another study, the length of pollen season would have increased by 20 days in the past 28 years in the US. This is a drastic change.

The advantages of monitoring your lungs

With all this information in mind, it is all the more pressing to take the effects of pollen seriously and make sure to treat allergies appropriately. It is helpful to follow pollen forecasts, as the severity of an allergic reaction depends on the amount of exposure to pollen. Daily pollen concentrations fluctuate, because they are influenced by changing weather conditions such as duration of sunshine, humidity and wind direction and speed. 

Using KAMU Health over time can provide revelatory information for chronic lung condition sufferers on how pollen influences the state of their lungs. It offers the possibility of tracking personal triggers together with medicine intake and measurement results. 

A general challenge in treating asthma is that an exacerbation of symptoms, be it because of pollen or other reason, can go unnoticed at first. KAMU encourages its users to be consistent in their asthma treatment and monitoring. In this way, users are alerted in time if their lung function worsens, and react to it readily — or avoid exacerbation altogether. Thinking that your asthma is under control is not the same as knowing that it is under control. Doing follow-up takes the second-guessing off the plate.

 

Principal sources:

Egan, M & Bunyavanich, S (2015). Allergic rhinitis: the “Ghost Diagnosis” in patients with asthma. Asthma res and pract, 1(8). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40733-015-0008-0

Oh, JW (2022). Pollen Allergy in a Changing Planetary Environment. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res, 14(2), 168–181. https://doi.org/10.4168/aair.2022.14.2.168