Pollen is necessary, but can affect health
Pollen from grasses, trees, and weeds allows plants to reproduce, but it can also cause health concerns. Pollen can trigger allergies and asthma attacks, and affect other respiratory conditions. According to the CDC, allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. with an annual cost in excess of $18 billion. More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies each year.
The majority of people who have asthma, also suffer from allergies. Pollen can cause an allergy-triggered asthma attack. In Minnesota, asthma affects one in 16 children (6.4%) and one in 13 adults (7.4%). People with asthma need to be especially aware of pollen sources and seasons to prevent an allergy-related asthma attack.
Pollen seasons are shifting and increasing in length
Depending on the season, pollen is naturally found in the air. Human activities and land-use decisions can increase pollen levels. Increasing evidence suggests that climate change factors, such as warmer temperatures and rising concentrations of carbon dioxide (a potent plant food), are leading to longer pollen seasons. Climate changes may also cause certain trees and plants to produce more pollen.
Ragweed is one of the most common causes of seasonal allergies in the United States. A study found that the ragweed season in Minnesota increased by 18-21 days from 1995-2015.
Growing season length depends on latitude (how far north or south of the equator). Plant hardiness zones provide a standard by which growers can determine which plants are capable of growing at a certain location based on minimum temperatures for that area.
As winters are warming, particularly in Minnesota, plant hardiness zones have shifted to the north, as shown on an Arbor Day Foundation map. These zone shifts may allow non-native, allergenic plants to expand their range into our state. By mid-century, Minnesota’s climate may allow native plants in southern states to grow in Minnesota.
Reducing pollen exposure and impact
Become familiar with the type of pollen that triggers your allergies, so you can prevent or reduce symptoms. You can best manage your exposure by understanding when pollen is especially high in your area and begin taking medication in advance of the season.Your medical provider can help you identify the source of your allergies and determine the best treatment.
- Be aware of the type of pollen that triggers your allergies and get a pollen and mold report for the Twin Cities area from the National Allergy Bureau.
- Avoid the outdoors at high pollen times.
- Use dehumidifiers and air filters indoors.
- Discuss taking allergy medication with your medical provider.
What is being done about pollen exposure?
- The MN Climate and Health Program provides information on pollen and the association with climate change, specific to Minnesota.
- The National Allergy Bureau provides information on pollen, mold and other allergens, and how to manage allergy symptoms.
- The CDC Climate and Health provides information on asthma and allergens.
- The National Oceanic Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA) uses pollen data to understand the past climate and impacts on our current climate.
- Pollen Overload:Seasonal Allergies in a Changing Climate gives an overview of the impact of climate change on pollen.