Extreme weather events, from coastal flooding, intense heat, record amounts of rainfall in some areas and historic droughts in others, are becoming increasingly common as the Earth’s average temperature rises. The World Meteorological Organization has linked some of 2013’s most extreme weather events – think back to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines as well as flooding in central Europe and record high temperatures in Australia, Asia and Africa to human-induced climate change. “There’s been a general disruption of nature,” says Kim Knowlton, a senior scientist in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s health and environmental program. In may, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (GCRP) released a comprehensive report on the impacts of climate change. It bluntly states: “Over the last 50 years, much of the United States has seen an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, and in some regions, more severe droughts.”
– Claire Cagne, Wild Weather & Our Allergies, Allergic Living, Summer 2014
This is very bad news for people with allergies and asthma – more moisture and higher temperatures mean increased levels of mold, pollen and air pollution.
Temperatures across the U.S. are projected to increase anywhere from 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century so the challenges we encounter from climate change are likely to get worse. (Gagne, 2014)
AIR-BORNE ALLERGENS ARE EXPECTED TO INCREASE
According to the EPA’s report on climate change and air-borne allergens, A Review of the Impact of Climate Variability and Change on Aeroallergens and Their Associated Effects (EPA, 2011):
- Aeroallergens include pollens, which can be produced by weeds, grasses and trees, as well as molds, dust particles, ash and indoor allergens.
- Aeroallergens such as dust, ragweed, pollen and molds impact half of all Americans.
- Treatment for allergies in the US costs $21 billion annually.
- Three major allergic diseases have been associated with exposure to aeroallergens: hay fever, asthma and eczema. Collectively, these three allergic diseases rank sixth for annual expenditures among chronic health conditions in the United States.
- Beyond the direct cost of medical care are the indirect, but substantial, costs associated with lost time at work, school and play.
- Increases in temperature, carbon dioxide and precipitation will cause the proliferation of weedy plants that are known producers of allergenic pollen. Higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere act as a fertilizer for plant growth. Warmer temperatures and increased precipitation will cause some plants to grow faster, bloom earlier and produce more pollen.
- Climate-related temperature changes are expected to increase the potency of airborne allergens, increasing the concentration of pollen in the air, the length of the allergy season and the strength of airborne allergens.
- Climate change will allow allergen-producing plant species to move into new areas.
- Wind-blown dust, carrying pollens and molds from outside of the United States, could expose people to allergens they had not previously contacted. Exposure to more potent concentrations of pollen and mold may make current non-sufferers more likely to develop allergic symptoms.
HEAVIER, MORE FREQUENT RAINS PRODUCE MORE MOLD
Molds can cause serious health problems in susceptible individuals. Here’s information from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on the city’s health crisis following Hurricane Sandy (RebuildAdjustNY.org, 2013):
- Toxins produced by mold, known at myotoxins, can cause headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, inability to concentrate and memory loss.
- Chronic exposure to mold can lead to permanent lung disease
- According to the Institute of Medicine, “There (is) sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people.”
- According to a World Health Organization-cited study, building dampness/mold increases the occurrence of respiratory and asthma-related health incidents by 30-50%.
- A second study estimated that 21%of the cases of asthma in the United States could be attributable to dampness and mold in housing, for a total annual national cost of $3.5 billion.
- Sandy-impacted neighborhoods are especially vulnerable to health effects from mold.
- According to then Mayor Bloomberg, 70,000 – 80,000 homes suffered water damage due to Hurricane Sandy.
- About 180,000 – 210,000 New Yorkers could be currently exposed to Sandy-related mold.
- Mold is especially dangerous for 45,000+ children under the age of 5 and senior New Yorkers who are considered highly vulnerable to mod-related ailments.
- Mold is especially dangerous for individuals suffering from asthma and other respiratory ailments.
- Sandy-affected neighborhoods reported more than 30,000 asthma-related emergency room visits between 2008 and 2010.
- Children and seniors comprise about 25% of the population in Sandy-affected neighborhoods.
- Asthmatics comprise more than 25%of the Sandy-affected neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Mold damage is not always as easy to detect as in the photo above. It can be growing inside walls or behind wallpaper so not necessarily be visible.
And dead mold spore can still cause allergic reactions in some people so killing the mold may not be sufficient – it must also be removed. (EPA, 2012)
SO HOW CAN WE REDUCE OUR CHANCES OF INCREASED SUFFERING FROM ALLERGIES AND ASTHMA?
We know that 80-90% of our immune system resides in the mucosa of our guts. An unbalanced, impaired gut microbiome produces chronic inflammation in the body. Over time, this inflammation produces autoimmune conditions (such as allergies and asthma) – as well as gum disease, repeating UTIs, heart disease, nail fungus, some cancers, and much more.
Mast cells located in our skin, connective tissues, and the mucosal linings of our stomachs and intestines, are an essential part of our immune defenses. These unique cells are tasked with activating the immune system to defend us from harmful invaders.
In people with allergies, the immune system misidentifies innocuous substances as dangerous pathogens and sends out mast cells to combat them – as if Attila’s Huns were at the gate and needed to be attacked at all costs, even to the point of destroying the body in the process.
The real solution for both allergy and asthma sufferers isn’t just treating the symptoms but working to restore the health of the friendly bacteria living in the gut with the goal of normalizing the immune system. A healthy, balanced gut immune system will stop producing inflammation and allow a return to health.
As climate change exposes us to increasing numbers of molds and other allergens, we’re all going to need immune systems that are up to dealing with the challenge.
For more information on allergies, asthma, autoimmune conditions, the role of inflammation in these problems, and how to strengthen your immune system, see:
Cagne, C. (2014). Wild Weather & Our Allergies. Allergic Living, 4:2, 32-37.
EPA. (2012). A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home: Hidden Mold. See: http://www.epa.gov/mold/hiddenmold.html
RebuildAdjustNY.org. (2013). Mold: NYC’s Health Crisis Post-Sandy. See: http://www.rebuildajustny.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Resource-Post-mold-remediation-Sandy-Mold-Health-Fact-Sheet2.pdf
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2011). Allergies Getting Worse? See: http://www.epa.gov/research/gems/scinews_aeroallergens.htm
© Copyright 2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.
DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.