The UK has seen a rise in allergies and now has some of the highest prevalence rates of allergic conditions in the world, with over 20% of the population affected by one or more disorders, according to Allergy UK[i]. The Natasha Allergy Foundation states that ‘the number of people living with allergies in the UK is rising by 5% every year’[ii] and one of the reasons for this is attributed to the impact of climate change.
Whilst global warming is a widely understood concept, from the significant rise in ambient temperatures around the globe, the changes in the frequency and the amount of rain, snow, sleet and hail quantities plus, increased occurrence of extreme weather conditions, how do these changes affect allergies? In a study conducted at the University of Worcester[iii], Carsten Skjøth, a professor in atmospheric sciences, developed a new pollen forecasting system that suggests that the climate emergency could increase future allergy season severity by up to 60%.
According to Dr Ross Walton, an Immunologist, clinical researcher and Founder at A-IRCR.com, who has been investigating the impact of climate change on respiratory diseases and believes it does play a pivotal role.
Allergies are a product of humanity’s progression, “An allergic response, in many ways could be considered an ‘evolutionary hangover’, not so much genetically, but certainly socially,” he says. “Allergies are driven by a type 2 mediated immune response which was initially there to protect us against parasite infections. However, as society has evolved and become ‘cleaner’ and fairly parasite-free, we now have a type 2 immune response which lacks the appropriate education and sometimes fires itself up when it doesn’t really need to; this is an allergy response.”
Climate change affects seasonal growth patterns
As the climate on the earth begins to change, Dr Walton says, “We will see an increase in CO2 which is a major growth factor for plants, trees and flora, which will change growth patterns. These changes will undoubtedly alter flowering seasons, prolonging pollen producing periods, and potentially increasing the total pollen burden released into the environment.
“In addition, as we experience a move away from the freezing winters to milder wetter ones, we can expect that as well as the native flora having a prolonged flowering season, the new climate may also support the growth of non-indigenous species of plants, trees, and grasses, which will have their own flowering season, potentially further adding to our allergy burden, lengthening the season (normally February to September) throughout the year,” summarises Dr Walton.
The average length of any given flowering or spore season has increased significantly by half a week per year for the last two decades and this means it has a greater impact on allergy sufferers. Dr Walton adds, “Another problem is fungi, as milder wetter winters, rising sea levels, and widespread flooding provide an environment adapted for their growth. It is likely that these changes shall drive an increase in both indoor and outdoor mould exposure, further increasing prevalence of respiratory conditions and allergies.”
Lifestyle changes can reduce incidence of allergies
Extreme weather conditions such as thunderstorms and wildfires can all lead to allergies and allergic asthma. Despite the increased global incidences of asthma and allergies, some countries such as Finland are bucking the trend and incidences of allergies have plateaued and declined over a 10-year period.
This is largely due to a nationwide public health programme where key lifestyle changes were made which encouraged: Breastfeeding; spending time outside in your local natural environment; exercising; non-essential avoidance of environments or food; improving gut health; eating a Mediterranean or Baltic healthy diet; sparing use antibiotics; smoking cessation. This programme had a profound reduction in respiratory and skin allergies along with their associated healthcare costs, which highlights how important lifestyle can be in reducing allergies.
In another study of a Portuguese birth cohort, an increased exposure to the natural environment was associated with a lower incidence of allergy development. Simply, by exposing oneself to a local environment rich in flora, trees, weeds, grasses and fauna, the risk of developing an allergy is lowered. In this study, the diversity of the plant life was key.
In the UK, local green environment campaigns are working to increase diversity of their local flora, through approaches such as supporting and retaining growth of weeds in public spaces. Another key discussion currently is the role of local honey and how its consumption may help reduce respiratory allergies via desensitisation to the pollens contained within the honey. Ingesting an allergen in order to desensitise makes sense, but more data on honey is still needed.
Dr Walton says, “In summary, unfortunately, we are going to see an increase in the global burden of allergy sufferance due to climate change in the next few years. This shall consist of prolonged duration and potentially greater severity of symptoms as seasons are extended and the pollen burden is increased. Further, we are likely to observe a shift in the type of allergies that people have, with moulds and fungi becoming more prevalent due to the winters becoming milder and wetter.”
Despite the rise in allergens, people can still take action that will have a positive impact. Environmental management is going to be vital by improving the local environment and the diversity of the fauna and flora around us.
Allergy preparation is key and as above the allergy season is kicking off earlier and last longer with a level of intensity so finding ways to treat the symptoms as naturally as possible is going to be key and February is the start of the season and many don’t realise it starts so early and think they have a common cold.
Alison Cullen, Nutritional Practitioner at A.Vogel says, “Although we have much more exposure to allergens due to climate change, for which global changes are required, there are important lifestyle adjustments we can make that will make a difference, as the Finnish project clearly showed. Dietary changes, reducing stress, auditing your own environment, as well as supporting your own immune system and sleeping well can all help.”
How to tackle allergies
- Diversify your gut: the more diverse your gut flora/microbiome is, the better your whole body will work
- Chew your food: your digestive responses will be stronger and offer faster satiety.
- Eat ‘real’ food: ditch the processed food, and eat food with more nutritional value. Faster satiety will be an additional bonus.
- Less refined sugar: refined sugars feed unfriendly flora, so cut them back for a happier gut and immune system
- Prebiotic prep: prebiotics help create a healthy gut environment, so feed your friendly flora
- Avoid histamine rich foods: if you are histamine sensitive reduce eating high histamine foods such as: alcoholic drinks; sauerkraut, vinegar, soy sauce, kefir, kombucha, yoghurt, olives, cured meats, sour cream, buttermilk, aged cheeses, dried fruit, citrus fruit, avocados, walnuts, cashews, peanuts, aubergine, spinach, tomato, tuna, anchovies and sardines. Bananas, pineapple, papaya and strawberries may also trigger histamine release.
- Fermented foods: these can help by supporting friendly bacteria, but be careful if already suffering from high histamine levels – it’s best to check before eating lots of fermented foods or taking probiotics
- Avoid pesticides: try to eat as much organic food as you can afford, to reduce pesticides
- Reduce stress: stress causes nerve cells to produce CRH, a stress-mediating neurohormone released by nerve cells into the bloodstream, which exacerbates mast cell-dependent inflammation, and can worsen nasal allergy by sensitising mast cells in the nasal mucosa to CRH stimulation.[iv]
- Audit your environment: tidy up cupboards, deep clean carpets, wash your pets, reconsider intensive cleaning / bleaching / disinfecting products and finally clear away dust, dander and dust mites (and their faeces!)
- Prioritise sleep: night-time immune activity strengthens adaptive immunity, fortifying both this and innate immunity, repairing wounds and fighting off infection.[v] Interaction of immune system components during sleep reinforces the ability to remember how to recognise and react to dangerous antigens.
Herbal products can help – there are a number of histamine-quelling products such as the non-drowsy, A.Vogel Pollinsoan Tablets (£6.95 (80 tablets), £9.75 (120 tablets) and Luffa Nasal Spray (£7.99 (20ml) which can be used together and are used to help treat allergies to grass or tree pollen (hay fever), as well as allergies to dust, animals and pets (allergic rhinitis) that give rise to symptoms such as itching and watery eyes, sneezing, tickly nose or throat and a blocked nose. Use alongside the Extra Moisturising Eye Drops to soothe irritated eyes as they contain Euphrasia (eyebright) which will provide relief to troubled eyes during the summer, whether they are inflamed, itchy, dry or watery.
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[iv] Yamanaka-Takaichi M et al. Int J Mol Sci 2021; 22 (5): 2773
[v] Irwin MR. Nat Rev Immunol 2019; 19 (11): 702-715Last modified: February 7, 2022