Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 21, 2024

Allergies worsen as the earth warms

By MEGAN CRANTS | April 19, 2012

Spring is finally here. But while some are focused on the blossoming flora, others are preoccupied with devastating allergies and asthma. Springtime has always been a predictable time of triggers, but this season is anything but predictable.

With the shortening of spring, victims of allergens have been left to wonder when their bodies will start responding negatively to the environment. Scientists have noted that allergens such as pollen and ragweed are appearing earlier than usual, even before the official start of spring. This phenomenon has been attributed to rising global temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions, which seems especially prevalent in the upper latitudes of North America, where states such as Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma haven’t experienced significant warming.

The extended period of warmth allows allergens to escape into the air earlier with increasing intensity. A study conducted by the National Wildlife Federation found that if the spring season starts 30 days earlier than usual, there will be a 54 percent increase in ragweed pollen. This increase will make it more difficult for those with allergies to withstand allergy season and might even create new problems for those who were previously allergy free.

Hopkins students have an especially tough time during allergy season, since Baltimore is one of the worst cities to live in for environmentally sensitive individuals. The city ranks 46th in the 2011 annual list of worst allergy cities n the United States and 58th in the list of worst asthma cities.

Baltimore has the highest pediatric asthma hospitalization rate in the state of Maryland and one of the highest ratings in the country. Around 28 percent of city high school students have been diagnosed with the chronic disease, whereas only 20 percent of students nationwide have received the diagnosis. Baltimore is in the 90th percentile for carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions and has an average air quality index in the 70 to 80 percent range, classifying it as one of the dirtiest cities in the United States. What’s more, Baltimore failed to meet the national ambient air quality standard for ozone.

These unsettling statistics are most likely due to the fact that Baltimore has one of the longest commuting times in the country which leads to terrible air pollution. When cars sit on the highway for longer periods of time, more emissions enterinto the air. Baltimore’s factories are also deleterious to air quality in the city.

What can those of us who are sensitive to changes in the environment do to prevent spending another spring season in bed – sick and suffering? Check the air quality index and pollen and mold count before planning outdoor activities, stay away from high traffic areas and try to plan outdoor activities later in the day to avoid peak pollen times. If you cannot avoid being exposed to bad quality environmental triggers, take allergy or asthma medication 15 to 20 minutes before venturing outdoors and make sure to wash yourself of all pollen and other triggers upon coming back inside.

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