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Live Healthy, Atlanta! Thought Leader Uncategorized

Tree sex and the ozone

Climate change leads to urban areas with higher ozone and tree pollen counts. The result? Exacerbated allergies; exasperated sufferers.

By David Martin, RN, President and CEO, VeinInnovations

Both spring and fall allergies bring sneezing, runny noses, itchy or watery eyes, headaches, sinus pain and pressure, and, for those with asthma, a likely increase in wheezing and other asthma symptoms.

In Atlanta, for people with acute allergies to tree pollens, this has been, thus far, a challenging year. We had 11 high-level days in March for 2016, as compared to just one for the same time period last year.

Our “city in a forest” arbors are in a unique position to cause misery and mayhem: trees are plentiful and wind and rain levels seem primed to support a profusion of pollen.

If our ozone counts increase as well, the combination compounds the problem.

According to an article from PubMed Central (PMC is the National Institute of Health’s digital journal archive of peer-reviewed research), “It is likely that future climate change along with increasing urbanization will lead to rising ozone concentrations in the next decades. Our study indicates that ozone is a crucial factor leading to clinically relevant enhanced allergenicity of birch pollen. Thus, with increasing temperatures and increasing ozone levels, also symptoms of pollen allergic patients may increase further.”

While their test was with birch pollen in Germany, Atlantans are faced with birch along with pine, oak, sweet gum, and cottonwood as being among the most “amorous trees” sharing pollen for reproduction. Further, Atlanta is usually listed as being among the top 10 cities in the U.S. for ozone allergy concerns.

Fulton County gets a grade of F for ozone, according to the American Lung Association.

Ozone is formed when smoke from tailpipes, smokestacks and fossil fuels like gasoline, oil or coal are burned and come into contact with sunlight. The gasses react and form ozone smog, which causes a damaging chemical reaction with lung tissue. Way above the earth, the ozone layer helps, as it offers protection from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. At ground level, however, ozone is serious bad news.

For us, the increased warmth and ozone production means trees are likely to be putting out more pollen throughout the spring. And that pollen producers are likely to produce pollen for a longer time.

It all nets out to a tougher spring for Atlanta allergy sufferers. And so, you ask, what’s an outdoorsy Atlantan to do to protect himself or herself from the dual ravages of ozone and tree pollen?

On days with high pollen counts or high ozone levels, especially if you or family members have allergies or asthma, the National Resources Defense Council (NDRC) recommends that you:

  1. Keep track of pollen counts in your area by following newspaper, radio, or television reports or checking online at aaaai.org/nab
  2. On especially high pollen or ozone days during allergy season, put car and home air conditioners on recirculate, and keep doors and windows closed.
  3. After working or playing outdoors, take a shower and wash your hair (or towel off with a damp cloth) to remove pollen, and change your clothes.
  4. Try to save your most strenuous outdoor activities for days with relatively low ozone smog levels, or do them in the morning, when ozone levels are lower. Check online resources like www.airnow.gov for forecasts of local ozone conditions.
  5. If you have allergies or asthma, see a medical professional. Take appropriate medication and precautions; consider wearing a filter mask before doing outdoor chores.

Longer-term solutions for Atlanta? We could look into reducing the number of cars on the road via more use of carpooling and public transportation. The health benefits of those actions reduce traffic and ozone levels, and include a benefit for allergy doctors: an increase in on-time appointments for allergy shots.

For more information, visit these web sites:

The “Sneezing and Wheezing” report is available by clicking here: http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/sneezing/contents.asp

Atlanta Allergy Pollen Counts


Record High Pollen Count


What’s the difference between fall and spring allergies?


Pollen Trackers and Widgets: 5 Online Tools That Help Fight Allergies


Tree Pollen Map


High Environmental Ozone Levels Lead to Enhanced Allergenicity of Birch Pollen



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