Climate Change and Asthma
Submitted by the Children's Asthma Education Centre
Scientists continue to study our environment to understand why there are more children with asthma and allergies. We know that changes in our lifestyle and our homes have an impact on asthma rates. Global warming may also play a role.
Manitobans are used to living with and complaining about long cold winters. For some, global warming might not seem so bad! But experts have long warned that climate change will affect human health. It has been suggested the effects of global warming are now being seen in Manitoba. For people with asthma and pollen and mold allergies, long cold winters can bring some relief from annoying allergy symptoms, allowing them to use less medicine and feel better.
The first frost decreases pollen counts dramatically. This first frost now occurs 2-3 weeks later than in the past. The first snow cover decreases mold counts. This also now occurs later than in the past making the "allergy season" 4-6 weeks longer than it used to be.
The warming climate brings an earlier and longer pollen season. Trees now begin to pollinate approximately 3 weeks earlier in the year, followed by grass and finally ragweed. Ragweed pollination lasts on average 3 weeks longer in the fall due to delayed frost.
Scientists have also noted that the increase in temperature along with an increase in carbon dioxide in the air helps pollinating plants grow larger and produce more pollen. About 10% to 20% of Canadians are allergic to ragweed pollens. Ragweed and mold allergy can cause symptoms of hay fever and asthma. Researchers believe that the number of people allergic to ragweed is increasing as our ragweed season gets longer and more potent.
The past few years have brought several days of melting snow and even rain in January, which used to be our coldest month. These melts cause an increase in outdoor molds (eg. alternaria) causing more problems for children who are mold allergic. Children with pollen and mold allergies are therefore at risk of more severe asthma symptoms for a longer period of time. As explained by Pediatric Allergist, Dr. Tom Gerstner, Winnipeg has more Alternaria (a mold that prefers dry climate) and Cladosporium (a hardier mold) in spring and fall than does Vancouver, a far more "wet" climate. In addition, extreme weather conditions are an asthma trigger for some people. Hot humid weather, cold dry air or sudden changes in temperature may cause asthma symptoms to worsen.
Warmer, dryer summers, cause increased air pollution from grass and forest fires, adding more irritants to the airways that are already red and swollen from pollens and mold.
Researchers in Manitoba and around the world continue to try to understand why asthma and allergies are increasing. Although changes in our lifestyle may have an effect, so do changes in our global environment.
For more information on asthma and the programs offered at the Children's Asthma Education Centre visit our NEW website.
If you have questions or concerns about your child's asthma speak to one of our Certified Asthma Educators by phone or email:
The Children's Asthma Education Centre
FE 125 685 William Avenue
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3E 0Z2
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