Brown, hazy smog is an environmental nightmare, no doubt, but there's another reason to hate it: For millions of Americans, air pollution could also be making their seasonal allergies even more miserable.
According to a new study from the Max Planck Institute in Germany, two pollutants found in auto exhaust and smog may be exacerbating the curse of sneezing and watering eyes.
Researchers focused on two gases: nitrogen dioxide and ground-level ozone. Both are found in auto exhaust and smog, and can actually change the structure of common allergens like pollen and ragweed, making them more likely to provoke an allergic response. So yes, driving your car to work every day is likely making you sneeze more.
Scientists have known for a while that climate change is contributing to the increase in seasonal allergies, but this is the first study to explain how. Weed ecologist Lewis Ziska from the U.S. Department of Agriculture told the USA Today that as greenhouse gas emissions rise, and the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, the amount of pollen in the air increases too.
And that's making things pretty miserable to the 60 million Americans who suffer from allergies.
Even worse, that number is climbing — though scientists can't pinpoint the exact reason why. Studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health from 1988 to 1994 show that 54 percent of the population was allergic to at least one thing. Alarmingly, the allergens the researchers studied were two to five times more likely to cause a reaction than in a previous study conducted from 1975 to 1980.
Researcher Ulrich Pöschl of the Max Planck Institute said that the spike in patients suffering from allergies was part of the motivation behind the study.
"Scientists have long suspected that air pollution and climate change are involved in the increasing prevalence of allergies worldwide,"said researcher Ulrich Pöschl of the Max Planck Institute in a statement. "But understanding the underlying chemical processes behind this phenomenon has proven elusive."
How can we end the nationwide sneeze-a-thon? We're all breathing the same air, so choosing public transportation, carpooling, or biking will make an impact if done en masse. And if you're one of the millions already suffering from seasonal allergies, check out some of the natural remedies offered on Thrive Market.
Photo credit: Jay Peeples via Flickr