Yes, Your Allergies Are Getting Worse (No, You’re Not Imagining It)

It’s not all in your head. Allergies are actually getting worse, thanks to this. (Photo: Getty Images) 

With the start of spring comes the beginning of allergy season for so many. But before you solely blame the newly blossoming trees for your worst-allergy-season-ever itchy eyes and runny nose, consider the new research presented yesterday at the 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society indicating that the rise in allergy diagnoses and symptoms could be tied to an increase of certain environmental pollutants caused by climate change.

Ulrich Pöschl, PhD, and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Germany found that nitrogen dioxide (the main component in car exhaust) and ground-level ozone (the main component of smog) make for a treacherous cocktail that amplifies the impact of airborne allergens. These “ingredients” cause a chemical chain reaction that can actually alter the structure of allergens, making them more potent.

Allergies occur when the body produces antibodies in reaction to a certain substance, thinking that substance is harmful (and thus an attack on the immune system) even when it’s not. Some of the most common airborne allergens are pet dander, pollen, dust mites, and mold. While there is no “cure” for allergies, depending on the severity and the allergen, allergies can be managed by over-the-counter medications, immunotherapy (such as allergy shots that build up the body’s tolerance to the allergen), and general avoidance of the problematic allergen. 

Related: 10 Drug-Free Allergy Remedies

Between 30-40% of the world’s population suffers from allergies of some form and the global diagnostic and treatment market in the United States is expected to increase to $35.3 billion this year, up from $31.5 billion in 2014, and projected to $46.8 billion by 2020.

“Scientists have long suspected that air pollution and climate change are involved in the increasing prevalence of allergies worldwide,” said Dr. Pöschl. “But understanding the underlying chemical processes behind this phenomenon has proven elusive. Our research is just a starting point, but it does begin to suggest how chemical modifications in allergenic proteins occur and how they may affect allergenicity.”

Next up for Pöschl and his team will be studying the affects of these altered allergens on the human immune system.

Up Next: The Surprising Way To Prevent Peanut Allergies