6 Reasons Why Your Allergies Might Be Getting Worse
By Bill Gottlieb
More than 24 million American children and adults suffer from asthma, which is when the respiratory "pipes" (bronchi) that carry air in and out of the lungs are inflamed and spasm. And every year, the disease sends more than 1.8 million people to the hospital, killing nearly 4,000 with severe, choking asthma attacks.
Fifty percent of people with asthma have attacks triggered by allergens, such as molds, dust mites and animal dander. Of course, you can have allergies without asthma. You can have hay fever (seasonal allergic rhinitis), which is when your immune system mistakes pollen from grass, trees or weeds for a foreign invader and revs up its defenses, triggering sneezing, red and itchy eyes, a stuffed and runny nose, and fatigue.
But whether you have asthma or asthma and allergies or just allergies, you may have noticed your condition is getting worse. The rates of asthma have increased over the past 25 years—the number of people with asthma has increased fourfold and the number of deaths from asthma attacks has doubled. And people with hay fever are noticing that every allergy season seems like the worst ever.
What's happening? Many studies show the increase in allergies could be due to changes in the environment. This slideshow shows six reasons why more people might be feeling the affects of allergies:
Hay fever season and the ragweed allergies it brings may be getting more intense and lasting longer, according to a 2011 study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. "The main takeaway from the study is that we are seeing a significant increase in the season length of ragweed and this increase is associated with a greater warming at northern latitudes, consistent with projections regarding climate change," said Lewis Ziska, PhD, the lead author of the study and plant physiologist with USDA's Crop Systems and Global Change Lab. (The study found that the length of the ragweed season increased by as much as 27 days between 1995 and 2009 in various areas of the U.S.).
Climate change threatens human health in a number of ways, but allergies may be the most immediate, easy-to-recognize ailment, said Linda Marsa, investigative journalist and author of the book Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health—And How We Can Save Ourselves. And the problem isn't only longer allergy seasons.
Under normal circumstances, a single ragweed plant creates one million pollen grains. But in an environment with more carbon dioxide (CO2)—the main driver of climate change—plants produce three to four million pollen grains, explained Clifford Bassett, MD, medical director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York and a member of the public-education committee at the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. But the problem doesn't stop there. CO2 in the atmosphere is like plant food for weeds, causing them to produce pollen that contains more allergenic proteins than normal, said Marsa.
A study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that triclosan (an antibacterial chemical used in toothpastes and other personal care products) may play a role in worsening allergies. The study researchers looked at 3 years of health data from about 5,000 people and found that urinary levels of triclosan were linked to allergies and hay fever. This finding supports the "hygiene hypothesis"—sanitizing our homes and environments creates a weaker immune system that is less able to respond to bacterial and viral threats.
"Hygiene can protect us from infections," said Erin Rees-Clayton, PhD, a study author and a research investigator at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. "But some of the chemicals in hygiene and cleaning products may have more risks than benefits."
"Asthma prevalence has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, which suggests that some as-yet-undiscovered environmental exposures may be implicated," said study leader Kathleen Donohue, MD, assistant professor of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. "Our study indicates that one such exposure may be BPA."
Donohue and her colleagues analyzed health data from 570 pregnant women and their children at ages 3, 5 and 7. They found that exposure to BPA in early childhood—even very low levels of it—increased the risk of asthma in the children.
What are the jobs most likely to give you asthma? That's the question posed by researchers at the Imperial College London, who studied nearly 10,000 people to see which careers were most likely to trigger asthma. Of the 18 asthma-producing occupations, seven of them involved regular use of cleaning products.
That's not too surprising when you consider that 53 percent of cleaning products damage the lungs, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group. (And "green" cleaning products are not necessarily free of lung-damaging compounds).
A 10-year study of 3,000 children found that those with vinyl flooring in their bedrooms were one and a half times more likely to have asthma than children with wood, linoleum or other flooring materials. (The vinyl is polyvinyl chloride or PVC, a type of plastic widely used in construction). If mothers had vinyl flooring in their bedrooms while pregnant, the children were twice as likely to have asthma. "Our results suggest that PVC flooring exposure during pregnancy could be a critical period in the development of asthma in children at a later time," concluded the Swedish researchers in the International Journal of Environment and Health.
The researchers speculate that it's the phthalates—chemicals used to soften plastic—that are doing the dirty work. Phthalates leach into household dust, creating constant exposure.
The Preservative in Pre-Moistened Wipes
You've probably never heard of it, but in 2013 the dermatologists of the American Contact Dermatitis Society dubbed it the "Allergen of the Year." The compound? (Take a deep breath). Methylisothiazolinone (MI)—the preservative in most premoistened toilet, feminine and baby wipes (and in various liquid soaps, hair products, sunscreens, cosmetics, laundry products and cleaners). MI replaced other toxic, irritating preservatives, such as formaldehyde and parabens. The only problem: MI is irritating, too!
"In the last 2 or 3 years, we've seen a big increase in people with allergy to MI," said Matthew Zirwas, MD, director of the Contact Dermatitis Center at the Wexner Medical Center of the Ohio State University. The allergy produces red, raised, itchy bumps similar to poison ivy. The three areas most affected by the rash include the fingers and hands (from handling wipes), the buttocks and genitals (from applying the wipes) and the face (from soaps and shampoos). Needless to say, most people (and their primary care doctors) never figure out the cause of the rash.
Adapted from Health-Defense.
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Rodale Wellness.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Trump Denies CDC Director's 2021 Timeline for Coronavirus Vaccine ›
- Trump Orders Hospitals to Stop Sending COVID-19 Data to CDC ... ›
- Two White House Staffers Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Admin to Disband Coronavirus Task Force - EcoWatch ›
- Pence Offers 'Prayers' as Hurricane Laura Hits Gulf Coast While ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.
- Covering the 2020 Elections as a Climate Story - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Delays 2020 Earth Overshoot Day by Three Weeks ... ›
By Elliot Douglas
The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.
- German Business Leaders Call for Climate Action With COVID-19 ... ›
- Climate Activists Protest Germany's New Datteln 4 Coal Power Plant ... ›
By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.