Storm Team 4

Warming winters: How climate change is making allergy seasons worse and longer

The allergy calendar is blurring, and one of the culprits is the climate

NBC Universal, Inc.

It's not just your imagination -- the sneezing, coughing, headaches and wheezing attributed to allergies is starting earlier and staying longer.

With the effects of climate change -- now resulting in warmer and shorter winters -- we are seeing an extension of typical allergy seasons.

"As climate change happens and temperature levels start going up, we're seeing a much earlier start to allergy season and often the season then becomes protracted and last a lot longer," says Dr. Sebastian Leghvani, a New York City Allergist and a member of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

The changes at first blush are miniscule. According to NOAA, the Earth's temperature has risen by an average of 0.14° Fahrenheit per decade since 1880, or about 2° F in total. But the rate of warming since 1981 is more than twice as fast, with 2022 as the sixth-warmest year on record based on NOAA’s temperature data. 

But those seemingly imperceptible changes have significant impact on not only our weather and environment – but our health as well.

"Even small increases in global temperatures are enough to signal the plants," Leghvani says.

These seemingly minute changes to the air and water around us are impacting our lives, right down to our person health.

People like Matthew Miller have felt the change.

"I don't why, but for the past few years it's been more intense than in the past, for sure," Miller told News 4.

Dr. Leghvani said the research bares that out.

"There was almost a 20-day earlier start to the season from the beginning to the end in the study, and the season went on for one to two weeks extra as well. So, you were getting again, almost a month extra of allergy season. On top of that, they're also getting 20-21% more pollen per season," Leghvani said.

"I think there are a lot of different aspects of this to unpack, and I don't know that everyone has a full grasp of it. But most of our friends and family definitely recognize that there is a serious issue that's at play," Miller said.

Those changes to temperature, along with other biproducts of climate change, also contribute to change which affect tick season, infection diseases and even water-borne illness.

"Ticks typically come out anytime it's above 40 degrees," said Bryon Backenson, the director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Control at the New York State Department of Health.

"We used to say the tick season would start in mid-April, but now we have to bump that back to mid-March. And that extends to the other side of the season as well, to you know, November and December."

The challenges going forward are significant and complex. The goal of controlling climate change and its consequences are clear, but a unified effort to produce lasting, widespread change remains elusive.

"In an ideal world, we want to have a world where our kids are living in a healthier environment, where they are less allergic. But that takes an entire globe to work on that, and there is so much going on now, it seems like we are in a bit of a quagmire," Leghvani said.

Until then, advances in therapeutics, medications, repellents and treatments are there as we continue to try and outrun the effects of a changing climate.

Copyright NBC New York
Contact Us