pollen

It’s Not Getting Any Easier for People with Ragweed Pollen Allergies

By Erin Birgfeld

“Close the windows!” my father’s voice boomed through the house. “Are you trying to kill me? I have hay fever, you know!”

Back from college for the summer, I had opened all the windows to enjoy a mild summer day, so rare in the Washington, DC, area. What I had forgotten was that my father has allergies to all types of pollen. So while I enjoyed the fresh breeze, the open windows also let in those tiny pollen grains that tortured him every year. Sure, my dad could be a little overdramatic— hay fever (the common term for allergies to ragweed and other types of pollen) wasn’t going to kill him. But it does cause his seasonal sneezing, watery eyes, and aggravates his asthma.

My father isn’t the only one avoiding the sweet spring and summer breezes. More than half of Americans have at least one allergy, with hay fever accounting for more than 13 million visits to physicians’ offices and other medical facilities every year. One of the most common environmental allergens is ragweed, which can cause hay fever and trigger asthma attacks, especially in children and the elderly.

And unfortunately, the news for those suffering from ragweed allergies isn’t good. It turns out that climate change can have an effect on pollen and allergy season. Warmer spring temperatures cause some plants to produce pollen earlier and to keep producing later into the fall season. Plus, increased carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations allow ragweed and other plants to produce more pollen overall. That means more pollen for longer periods of the year! Yikes!

EPA’s Indicators of Climate Change Report features data from the National Allergy Bureau that shows that the length of ragweed pollen season has already expanded by 12-26 days in 8 of the 10 cities where data was collected between 1995 and 2011. Interestingly, ragweed pollen season length increased the most in northern latitudes and less in the south. If this trend continues, people allergic to ragweed pollen will have to deal with bothersome symptoms for longer. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Dad, what does this mean for you? Since climate change could prolong allergy season for millions of Americans, it’s probably a good thing you moved to Florida…at least for the sake of your hay fever. The climate change impacts on sea level rise and hurricanes is another story, though.

About the author: Erin Birgfeld is the Communications Director for the Climate Change Division within the Office of Air and Radiation. When she’s not working to protect the environment, Erin enjoys hanging out with her two young children, and doing a bit of swimming and biking when she can find the time.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Don’t Let Asthma Spoil the Fun

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, my husband and I took the kids kite flying to El Morro Fort in San Juan. Our three year-old marveled at the hundreds of kites in the sky and flew his with our help. But what caught his attention and gave him the most thrills throughout the sunny afternoon was rolling down the hills that surround the El Morro’s esplanade. Soon he forgot about his colorful kite and left his father and sister to enjoy the afternoon while I watched him roll in the grass. By Sunday morning all fun had disappeared from his face as he had developed a full blown asthma attack. While trying to pinpoint what had been the trigger and reviewing our daily routine, only one thing stood out: rolling on the grass. I know that mold, strong odors, second hand smoke and Sahara dust particles can trigger an asthma attack in my son, but I was dumbfounded this time. After some research I found out that nearly 80% of adults and children with asthma are allergic to trees, pollen and grass. While browsing for information I stumbled upon EPA’s Asthma Research Strategy where scientists study and develop an understanding of exposure, health effects, risk assessment, and risk management of indoor and outdoor environmental pollutants linked to asthma. This site was very helpful since it provides additional resources and publications related to projects supported by EPA. Among the studies that caught my attention were those that linked susceptibility and genetic factors with environmental exposures.

Even though I have identified most indoor triggers, and EPA provides a great wealth of information in that area, I was working on identifying outdoor environmental stressors. My search yielded the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health site. One interesting, but simple thing I learned on its website was to avoid outdoor activities on windy days. That made perfect sense since February through April is the windy or “kite” season in Puerto Rico. I also learned that most common grasses can trigger an allergic reaction in asthma patients. Now armed with this new information I can work better on identifying other outdoor environmental asthma stressors for my child.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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No dejes que el asma impida la diversión

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini se unió a la EPA en el 2002. Labora como especialista de relaciones públicas en la oficina de EPA en San Juan, Puerto Rico donde también maneja asuntos comunitarios para la División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe.

Recientemente, durante un pasadía un sábado por la tarde, mi esposo y yo llevamos los niños a volar cometas o chiringas como se dice en Puerto Rico frente al Fuerte del Morro en el Viejo San Juan. Nuestro hijo de tres años estaba maravillado con los cientos de cometas que volaban por los cielos y pudo volar la suya con nuestra ayuda. Sin embargo, lo que sí le atrajo más la atención durante esa soleada tarde fue el rodar por las colinas alrededor de los terrenos del Morro. Rápidamente se olvidó de su colorida chiringa y dejó que su padre y hermana disfrutaran la tarde a su manera mientras él se deslizaba y rodaba en la yerba y le observaba atentamente. El domingo por la mañana toda la diversión y el regocijo habían desaparecido de su rostro cuando desarrolló un severo ataque de asma. Mientras tanto, yo estaba repasando todas nuestras actividades matutinas y nuestra rutina cotidiana para ver que le había desencadenado este ataque. Lo único diferente que se destacaba era el hecho de haber rodado por el césped. Yo sé que el moho, ciertos olores fuertes, el tabaquismo pasivo y las partículas de polvo del Sahara pueden desencadenar un ataque de asma en mi hijo, pero esta vez, me quedé atónita. Después de investigar un poco más el tema, encontré que cerca del 80 por ciento de los adultos y niños son alérgicos al polen, a los árboles y a las hierbas. Mientras buscaba mas información, me tropecé con la Estrategia de Investigación de Asma de la Agencia de Protección Ambiental (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés) donde científicos estudian y desarrollan un entendimiento mayor de la exposición, efectos de salud, evaluación de riesgos, y manejo de riesgos de los contaminantes medioambientales en entornos interiores y exteriores vinculados al asma. Este sitio Web fue muy útil ya que brinda recursos adicionales y publicaciones relacionadas a los proyectos apoyados por EPA. Entre los estudios que más capturaron mi atención estaban aquellos en los cuales se vinculaban la susceptibilidad y factores genéticos a las exposiciones ambientales.

A pesar de que yo había identificado la mayoría de los factores desencadenantes en entornos interiores, y la EPA brinda amplia información en esta área, estoy trabajando para identificar los estresores ambientales en entornos exteriores. Mi investigación me llevó al sitio Web del Instituto Nacional de las Ciencias de Salud Ambiental de los Institutos Nacionales de Salud.  Algo muy interesante, pero sencillo, que aprendí de este sitio cibernético fue el evitar las actividades al aire libre en los días ventosos. Ahora eso me hace perfecto sentido ya que de febrero a abril es la temporada ventosa en Puerto Rico denominada comúnmente como la “temporada de las chiringas”. También aprendí que algunas hierbas comunes pueden desencadenar reacciones alérgicas en pacientes asmáticos. Armada con esta nueva información ahora puedo trabajar mejor para identificar otros estresores medioambientales de entornos exteriores que afectan a mi hijo.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.