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Fall is staying warmer longer due to climate change – bad news for allergy sufferers

Pollen on a ragweed plant
Daniel Hulshizer
/
AP Photo
Pollen on a ragweed plant

Climate change is lengthening allergy season, and a new analysis finds that millions of Americans with allergies are suffering longer into the fall.

The group Climate Central analyzed the number of fall days without freezing temperatures in more than 160 cities since 1970. It found that the growing season lasted 11 days longer on average. In Boise and Reno, the increases were even more dramatic – 39 and 27 days, respectively.

More frost-free days “can prolong allergy-inducing pollen production by the 17 types of ragweed that grow across the U.S. during the late summer and fall,” the report says.

“So we have overall three things: a longer season, more pollen and the pollen becoming more allergenic,” said Lewis Ziska, an associate professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. He studies climate change’s impact on plant biology and public health.

But climate change itself isn’t the only factor at play.

Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide -- a key driver of climate change – allow some plants to not only produce more pollen but also pollen that is more potent, Ziska said. Climate change can also allow plants with allergenic pollen to migrate to new regions.

As an allergy sufferer himself, he takes care to wash his clothes and keep windows and doors shut on heavy allergen days.

“If you have a spare COVID mask lying around the house and you're pollen sensitive, that's probably not a bad way to go,” Ziska said.

He also suggested having HVAC systems regularly checked and cleaned.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.
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