Asthma, Allergies, and Climate Change

By Rebecca Rehr

I live in Washington, DC and every morning when I walk outside, there is a thin layer of pollen that has accumulated…everywhere! I have a little tingle in my throat and my eyes are itchy. I am not alone in my suffering, nor am I alone in understanding the connection between lengthening allergy seasons and our changing climate. 

Millions of people across the country are affected by allergies this time of year, and thanks to climate change, “this” time of year is getting longer. Warmer temperatures are initiating plant mating seasons earlier, saturating the air around us with pollen spores.  In addition to warming, the direct impact of increasing carbon dioxide levels by burning fossil fuels accelerates the growth and proliferation of high-pollen producing plants like ragweed.[1] Impaired air quality caused by fossil fuel burning can further exacerbate other respiratory illnesses like asthma. In fact, according to a report from the Clean Air Task Force, there are more than 2,000 asthma-related emergency room visits each summer and over 600 respiratory related hospital admissions nationally due to ozone smog resulting from oil and gas pollution.[2]

Last fall, as part of its annual American Climate Metrics Survey (ACMS), ecoAmerica asked Americans about their attitudes and beliefs about climate change. Results indicate 80% believe climate change is happening, 73% are personally concerned about it.  Nearly half of respondents (45%) report being affected by breathing problems, such as asthma.[3] No longer an abstract issue, the results show that climate change is getting personal, impacting American health and wellbeing.

For each of the following issues, please indicate how much they are personally affecting you: 800 respondent(s) total nationally, % “A lot” and “Some”

The good news is, Americans (66%) also believe if the U.S. took steps to prevent climate change, it would improve their health.3 Climate change is the largest public health threat of our time, and so it also provides the opportunity to build more resilient and equitable communities as we seek clean energy solutions. Communities already experiencing health and economic disparities are also those being the most impacted by climate change. Large majorities of Americans believe that we have a moral responsibility to create a safe and healthy climate for ourselves and our children.  We can act now, together, for a healthier future.

Please indicate if you agree or disagree: We have a moral responsibility to create a safe and healthy climate for ourselves and our children.  400 respondents total nationally, % “Strongly agree” and “Not so strongly agree”

The Climate for Health program offers tools, resources, and communications to support visible climate leadership, and is partnering with the American Lung Association through the Year of Air Pollution and Health to empower public health professionals across the country to act on climate.

[1] Schmidt, CW. 2016. “Pollen Overload: Seasonal Allergies in a Changing Climate.” Environmental Health Perspectives 124(4): A70-75.

[2] Fleischman, McCabe, Graham. 2016. “Gasping for Breath: An analysis of the health effects from ozone pollution from the oil and gas industry.” Clean Air Task Force.

[3] Speiser, M., Kobayashi, N., Gutierrez, M., Lake, C., and Voss, J. 2018. American Climate Metrics Survey 2018. ecoAmerica and Lake Research Partners. Washington, D.C.



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