Allergic respiratory diseases have escalated over the last several decades, at least in part as the result of climate change and air pollution. Scientists believe warmer weather and higher levels of carbon dioxide (a major greenhouse gas) have led to higher pollen counts as well as longer pollen seasons. As Lene Andersen, a HealthCentral Health Guide, stated in an article last year**: **"In some parts of North America ragweed season has increased by 27 days." But tree pollen is currently the predominant pollen in the Midwest and northern regions of the U.S.
There seems to be no sanctuary for allergy sufferers because warmer weather due to climate change generates more pollen and mold, while weather changes can increase sinus and ear pressure.
Climate change is nothing new. In fact, the world has been changing for thousands of years. Global cooling preceded global warming by several hundred years. Over vast parts of the earth, humans struggled to grow crops and stay warm between the 15th and 19th centuries. In addition, many animals and insects weren’t able to survive such bone-chilling weather. But then global warming followed, along with new concerns about environmental health hazards.
It appears we humans have a lot to do with our current climate problem because of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from industry. Greenhouse gas emissions trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere by absorbing or reflecting solar rays that bounce off the earth on their way back to outer space. Global warming that results from the greenhouse gas effect can cause a host of other problems. These include:
- Polar ice reduction due to melting* ** Higher sea levels and flooding*** ** More precipitation and extreme weather activity (hurricanes/drought)*** ** Shortages of fresh water*** ** Increase in diseases from microorganisms and insects that fare better in a warmer climate**
As mentioned, the melting of the polar cap increases sea levels and causes more flooding. The increased indoor and outdoor humidity fosters higher mold counts. Dust mites also tend to thrive in more warm and humid environments. This can result in a year-round one-two punch for people allergic to both mold and dust mite.
How Does Weather Change Affect the Sinuses and Ears?
The sinuses are open spaces located on both sides of the head. They surround the eyes–above, below and between_. _ The sinus cavities connect with the nasal passages through tiny openings, or ventilation channels. When blocked, these channels can cause an increase in sinus pressure. The same thing happens when a small channel that leads from the middle ear (Eustachian tube) to the back of the upper nasal passage gets blocked. The ventilation channels often don’t work well in the setting of hay fever, colds and sinus infections.
When the outside barometric pressure goes down, sinus and ear pressure can go up.**** The opposite may happen when barometric pressure rises. The changing pressures can cause intense sinus and ear pain, much like you experience during the takeoff and landing of a plane.
What You Can Do About Climate/Weather Change:
Since pollen and mold exposure may be more intense and prolonged, get a head start on seasonal allergy medications. This means starting your antihistamines and recommended nasal sprays a little earlier in the season.
Tree pollen season is already underway for most of the country, but grass season looms ahead (for us Northerners). When to get the jump on treatment depends on which pollens you are allergic to, and where you live. Allergy testing is essential to identify your pollen and mold triggers.
Do everything you can to reduce indoor allergen and irritant exposure. Keep your windows closed and run the air conditioner as the weather warms in order to reduce the entry of pollen and mold from the outside. The air conditioner may also help to filter some of the indoor air. Fans tend to blow dust and other small particles around, keeping them suspended in the air you are breathing.
Board Certified Allergist and Asthma Specialist