Thunderstorm asthma on the rise due to climate change

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Climate change has changed the way we eat, the way we travel – it’s even dividing albatross life partners.

By Zoe Madden-Smith for Subject: News

Now, new research indicates that it will also interfere with allergies and asthma.

Until recently, thunderstorm asthma was considered a fairly rare phenomenon.

But now that stormy weather events are becoming more commona New Zealand study called thunderstorm asthma a growing threat to public health.

Thunderstorm asthma is the increase in asthma cases within hours of thunderstorms.

During a thunderstorm, airborne allergen particles, such as pollen and fungal spores, are broken down into fine, respirable particles that can be inhaled and trigger asthma symptoms.

The study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal in July says places like Waikato are particularly vulnerable to thunderstorm asthma due to extensive pastoral farming and grassland.

Its inland location means there is also a greater chance of summer thunderstorms which sync with New Zealand’s pollen and fungal spore season.

Prepare for longer allergy seasons due to grass

Allergy expert Rohan Ameratunga says climate change could also alter the length and severity of New Zealand’s allergy seasons.

“Unfortunately, New Zealand is pretty bad in terms of grass allergies because our grass season is already long enough here.”

As the climate changes and temperatures rise, the grass season may lengthen, which would make things worse for people with grass allergies, as more allergens hang around longer in the year, he says.

But on the other hand, Ameratunga says what can happen is that the temperate grasses we have now might become less prevalent in warmer climates and you might have subtropical grasses instead.

“That means people with allergies to temperate grasses, which are a common cause of hay fever here, might experience some relief,” he says.

A study published in 2022 shows that the United States will face a 200% increase in pollen this century if the world continues to produce carbon dioxide emissions at the current rate.

This is because rising temperatures will extend the growing season for plants and grass, giving them more time to reproduce and emit pollen.

Carbon dioxide also fuels photosynthesis, which can mean plants will get bigger and also produce more pollen.

New Zealand has a dust mite problem

To make matters worse, dust mites in New Zealand, and Auckland in particular, are internationally bad because we’re a temperate region – that means it’s never too hot or too cold, there’s lots of moisture in the air – and dust mites thrive in moist, humid environments.

Dust mites are microscopic creatures that feed on skin cells and thrive in the dampness of bedding, blankets, and winter clothes that have been left in closets for some time.

They can be extremely difficult to eradicate, but reducing indoor humidity by regularly opening windows and using a dehumidifier can control them and prevent triggering asthma symptoms.

Although rising temperatures are catastrophic for the environment, Ameratunga says that if New Zealand’s climate becomes drier our problems with mold and dust mites will improve.

“So it could be a mixed bag, some things could get better and some things could get worse,” he says.

The best place to live to avoid seasonal allergies?

“[In] places like the Middle East there are no mites because it is too hot and the heat also means there is no grass there. So if you have allergies, this is the best place to be,” says Ameratunga.

“Very cold places don’t have as many problems with mites and grasses are also less of a problem. Unfortunately, places like Auckland are the perfect humid climate for allergens to thrive.

Morgan Pedlow suffers from asthma and hay fever and says he noticed his allergies weren’t as bad when he lived in the Netherlands.

“In New Zealand I feel like I sneeze all year round, but when I lived in Europe my asthma and allergies weren’t so crazy.”

But even though Morgan finds his constant sniffles and reliance on an inhaler annoying, he says he is unwilling to leave New Zealand to find relief.

“It’s not that bad yet. But it makes you think about how climate change is linked to literally everything. It will change even the smallest bits of life.

First published on renew.co.nz Re:makes videos, articles and podcasts that cover important issues that matter to young New Zealanders. You can see more stories on their website.

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