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Is Pollen Increasing Due To Climate Change?

Picture of Dr. Yvonne Boose
By Dr. Yvonne Boose on April, 6 2022
Allergy Awareness

Allergy sufferers may have to brace themselves - researchers predict the US could see as much as a 200% increase in pollen this century if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, which may also cause pollen season to start between 10 to 40 days earlier.

But why does this happen? Let’s take a deeper dive into the link between our changing climate and the unpredictability of pollen seasons as we know them.

How Do We Define ‘Pollen Season’?

The term ‘pollen season’ refers to the time of year when pollen production for certain plants begins, peaks, and ends. This will differ according to plant type and species, and of course, location. It also changes from year to year, depending on several (environmental) factors that play a role for when it makes most sense for a plant to produce pollen.

Importantly, climate factors play a huge role in dictating when plants will start and stop producing pollen, as well as how many of these allergenic grains they will make.

Yes, Allergies Do Get Worse Every Year

Researchers have found that over the past couple of decades, climate change is making pollen seasons in North America around 20 days longer and about 21% more potent. As the planet continues to warm, scientists predict that the severity of pollen seasons will similarly worsen, and more people will become sensitive to higher pollen counts.

Understanding Climate Change Impact On US Pollen Seasons: Why Is Pollen Increasing?

North American pollen seasons may be getting worse for 3 key reasons:

1. Increasing Levels Of Carbon Dioxide In The Atmosphere

There’s a direct correlation between pollen production and carbon dioxide, as demonstrated by scientific research. As atmospheric CO2 levels increase, various plants grow larger, flower earlier, and produce more pollen, as CO2 is no longer a limiting growth factor.

While there’s significant complexity in mapping out the impact of climate change on pollen, studies have found potential links between the two. Climate Central meteorologists say that ragweed pollen production has more than doubled since the year 1900 due to a constant rise in CO2 levels. If CO2 emissions continue increasing at this rate, by 2060 pollen production could double again.

2. Increasing Temperatures Affect Pollen Production

Temperature plays a big part in pollen production schedules. After analyzing pollen data sets from a period of over two decades across the Northern Hemisphere, researchers concluded global warming is a key contributor to the trend of worsening North American pollen seasons. Total produced pollen amounts had increased in 71% of the analyzed locations and pollen season length extended by an average of 0.9 days per year in 65% of the locations. 

3. Spread of Pollinators to New Locations

Research suggests that warmer temperatures encourage the spread of pollen-producing plants to areas where they did not previously grow. Scientists note where pollinating species did exist before, they have increased in numbers as well. 

Is There Any Way To Monitor & Predict How Bad Pollen Seasons Will Get?

Traditional pollen monitoring methods involve manual pollen trap stations, wherein hot air is blown on sticky film to capture pollen grains floating in the air. The films are then analyzed under a microscope to count the number of grains and report the findings after 24 hours or longer. 

Obviously, this makes traditional pollen monitoring unable to make predictions for the future, as it can only report on past findings, and at their specific location.

How Big Data & AI in Pollen Monitoring Bridges Reporting Gaps

To eliminate reporting delays and provide pollen forecasts for up to 5 days, BreezoMeter has developed new cloud-based pollen technology which overcomes the limitations of manual-only official methods. While still utilizing information from monitoring stations, BreezoMeter incorporates a wide range of additional environmental data sources which it uses to calculate and predict pollen counts via sophisticated modeling.

 

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By layering pollen station data with information about vegetation land covers, pollen emission schedules, climate and weather, and other environmental factors, we inform our pollen forecasting models to produce accurate results on a global grid.

(See how our live global pollen heatmap visualizes local pollen risk levels).

Focusing On The Health Impact of Pollen

People experience pollen allergies differently and need a precise and personalized solution to understand how local pollen will impact them daily. Using a global pollen index that can be universally understood, BreezoMeter reports daily pollen forecasts and provides location-based health insights which companies can use to ensure their solutions are effectively tailored to individual sensitivity groups.

(Learn about our pollen monitoring technology in more detail with this guide).

How Can Improved Pollen Data Help Us to Better Manage Seasonal Allergy?

Reliable and accurate pollen data can be used to better inform a range of different allergy management methods, enabling companies to empower allergy sufferers and encourage positive behavior change.

  • Indoor air brands can expand upon their traditional definitions of 'air quality' and offer a bigger environmental picture by integrating pollen data into their solutions. By better protecting allergy-suffering customers from more airborne environmental hazards, indoor air solution providers can improve brand reputation and distinguish their offerings.

    Indoor air leader AirThings integrates pollen data with their indoor environment management platform to complement their in-room sensors.

  • Automotive companies can leverage pollen data to keep in-cabin air quality healthier and even help save lives. Sneezing while driving causes drivers to take their eyes off the road and is believed to cause many potentially-fatal accidents, a concern for people with and without allergies. By integrating personalized pollen data and insights with cabin air quality management systems, automotive brands can minimize sneezing risks along with other health threats from the changing environment around each vehicle.

  • Allergy therapeutics companies can leverage pollen data to create personalized forecasts for individual patients based on personal sensitivities, delivering tailored insights to optimize medication use at the right time and minimize reactions.

     

     

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  • (Example: Global pharma brand ALK leveraged pollen data to cut app churn rate by 50%- read the case study here.)

  • Lifestyle and fitness apps can integrate pollen forecasts and insights into their digital offerings, empowering users to act on live pollen data in accordance with their personal sensitivities in a way that makes travel, outdoor exercise, and other daily activities healthier and engage users to form new app-reliant habits.

  • Market analysts can harness historical pollen data to correlate consumer trends with local pollen conditions over time, empowering demand planning strategies and enabling better inventory management and ad campaign optimization.

    (Find out how historical environmental data, including pollen records, enhance demand planning strategies in multiple ways.)

  • Researchers can also utilize pollen forecasts and historical data to enable health and climate studies and explore the impact of different environmental changes on pollen itself or the impact of different allergens on public health.

    Learn more about the potential of historical pollen data delivered through our History Plus product.

Pollen Data is Now More Important & Valuable Than Ever

As pollen seasons continue to affect more individuals as a result of climate change, an increasing number of businesses -  especially pharma and allergy treatment brands - are turning to new forms of pollen data to satisfy the growing demand for protective solutions from an increasing seasonal allergy-suffering population.

By integrating pollen data into digital products and platforms, these businesses can launch new health-focused tools, enhance existing offerings, and better engage their audiences. In the long run, this change in approach will help these providers stay competitive in an increasingly unpredictable market that places great importance on the changing reality of the world we live in.

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