Do you have allergies? Does it seem like you're meeting more people with allergies each year? What role does the environment play in developing allergy conditions, and what does it seem like more people are developing allergies each year?
The triggers for respiratory allergy responses change over the year. From February through to May, trees drop pollen in the air, hoping to spread it as far as possible. If the wind conditions are right, the pollen can float suspended in the air column for hundreds of yards.
After the trees finish, the grasses take over the task of spraying pollen into the air. Grasses release pollen in the months of April through to September, with the weeds being the final pollen-spreading plants to finish off the year.
Weeds disperse pollen from August through to November, and there are only a few months of winter before the entire cycle starts again.
If you have respiratory allergies, the effects of pollen on your condition can range from mild to severe. Severe allergy responses can require hospitalization in some cases.
However, it's not only outdoors where you have to worry about the presence of allergens; there are plenty indoors as well. Pet dander, dust mites, mold, and other pollutants hang around in the air in your home.
If any of these contaminants get to dangerous levels, it can increase the intensity and frequency of allergy attacks in affected individuals.
So, with more pollutants and contaminants in the air than at any stage in history, are more people developing seasonal respiratory allergies? Let's unpack the science behind the issue to discover the truth.
Weeds, grasses, and trees operate on the natural cycle of the seasons. They each have specific times of the year when they start to release pollen into the air, and that's for a reason. First, the trees drop, followed by the grass, and then the weeds.
The timing occurs with the following season's germination, giving the seeds enough time to mature and find the right spot to sprout the next spring. According to research, human activities and interactions with the environment change how trees, grasses, and weeds spread their pollen.
With average temperatures increasing around the world, trees have a longer summer. As a result, they spend it dropping more pollen than they did when temperatures were cooler on average. Data shows that average global temperatures increased by 2F since the start of the industrial revolution.
As a result of the changes to the climate, the trees responded by starting to drop pollen around two weeks earlier than normal. That figure equates to around 5% extra pollen production by each tree every year.
Since 1900, the quantity of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air increased by 68%, with rates steadily increasing. At the same time, increases in carbon dioxide may cause shortness of breath and dizziness in humans; it's like giving plants extra snacks.
Plants absorb CO2 and turn it into food, resulting in faster growth. As a result, plants in the northern hemisphere produce up to as much as 20% more pollen throughout the year.
With more pollen in the air, we can expect more people are developing allergies to organic material.
When the coronavirus pandemic struck in 2020, the world went under stay-at-home orders, with the quarantine lasting for well over a year. During the time we spent socially distancing our lives, we all ended up spending a lot more time indoors.
However, pollen can come in with the air through open doors and windows, sticking to clothes, hair, and surfaces on your person and in your home. Even if you decide to close the windows and doors, you still have indoor allergens to consider.
Pet dander, dust mites, and mold are all significant problems to maintaining the air quality.
Pet dander refers to the skin cells shed by your cats and dogs. The animals are constantly shedding tiny flecks of skin that are light enough to suspend in the air. They stick to your clothes, hair, and you'll also breathe them in. Think of dander as like the pet equivalent of dandruff.
Pet dander can cause allergic responses in some individuals, leading to signs of respiratory inflammation and irritation. Dust mites are also another consideration for homeowners when it comes to managing indoor allergens.
Dust mites live in the fibrous surfaces around our home, like the carpets and curtains. They also infest mattresses, feeding on the dead skin cells we shed every day, just like our dogs. However, dust mites down drink water sources; they retrieve it directly from the air.
If you have all the windows and doors closed in your home, you can expect humidity levels to rise. As a result, the dust mites start to thrive, and you'll notice you begin experiencing problems with upper-respiratory issues and skin itching.
Finally, to wrap up the trifecta of indoor contaminants, we have mold. Mold spores carry in the wind, originating from the lawn, leaf piles, and other organic matter in the garden. The spores are lightweight and float easily in the wind, getting into your home through open doors and windows.
When they find a dark, damp spot in the home, the spores spread and release spores into the air. Some mold varieties release mycotoxins that can make humans really sick. An example is the toxic black mold.
If mold establishes in your home, it requires immediate removal. The air in your home will smell musty, and people with allergies will notice a dramatic escalation in their frequency and intensity of attacks. Some reports suggest that up to 80% of people with allergies are highly allergic to mold spores.
Unfortunately, the science shows that individuals with allergies are at a higher risk of experiencing the symptoms of other allergies than those people without any allergies at all. In some cases, the reaction may be completely different from what they traditionally receive when a standard allergy response.
An example is the "atopic triad" of eczema, asthma, and allergies. People with one of the disorders are likely to develop another one in the trio, in a process known as the "atopic march." Medical science is at a loss to explain how any of these conditions arise or which is most common in showing up first in the atopic march.
However, some experts believe defects in the skin allow environmental allergens to enter the bloodstream, sensitizing the body and creating the groundwork for the allergic response. Typically, the body produces IgE antibodies when it detects invading allergens.
Unfortunately, a buildup in the IgE antibodies continues the sensitization process in the affected individual. The IgE antibody is responsible for the production of histamine in the body. The body also initiates an immune response utilizing specific chemical signals to message immune cells.
It takes time for the chemical process to unwind and for the system to rest itself. It's for this reason that allergists recommend the use of antihistamines for pretreatment protocols before the allergy season arrives.
After the body experiences inflammation due to histamine production, it primes the immune system to fight it off. Therefore, the use of antihistamines has limited efficacy since they already produced the inflammatory response through the chemical messaging process.
Interestingly, some allergies can appear regionally. For instance, Texas is well-known for "Cedar Fever," a period of the year when the cedar trees across the Lone Star state release clouds of pollen into the air column. In some parts of the state, the effect is so severe that residents flee the area for a few months until things settle down.
The reality is that different regions of the world are home to different types of plants with varying characteristics. As a result, indoor allergens can vary geographically, depending on where you live.
However, it's important to note that biological diversity is not the only reason for the geographical variance of allergens across the world.
For example, CO2 output can be up to 30% higher in urban areas due to the effects of commerce and industry. As a result, temperatures can be up to 3F warmer in these locations. In addition, the particles from diesel fuel emissions may also impact increasing the efficacy of airborne allergens.
It appears that there is a link between why more people are developing allergies and their environment. In the past, people would live in communities spread out across the country. However, as the technological age marches in, people cluster together tightly in cities, increasing pollution and air temperatures, affecting the climate.
As a result, pollen seasons are lasting longer, and plants thrive, creating more pollen in the air. At the same time, indoor air quality is declining, and more people are spending time at home.
The only way to control your allergies is to take control of the air quality in your home. Start with an air inspection by qualified professionals. The team at MI&T can assess the air quality in your home and detect allergens like mold spores.