Australia's hay fever sufferers can expect their torment to last longer and become more intense with climate change, according to researchers at home and abroad.

About one in five Australians are affected by hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, with residents of the ACT reporting the highest proportion and the 25-44 age group most affected, according to Janet Rimmer, a respiratory physician and allergist at St Vincent's Clinic in Sydney.

"Certainly allergic diseases have increased in the past 10 to 20 years," Dr Rimmer, who is also an associate professor at the Sydney Medical School, told Fairfax Media.

One factor may be the southern spread of pollen-rich subtropical grasses, such as the introduced bahia and Bermuda or couch species, which are also common on sport ovals and nature strips. 

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A nationwide program aimed at giving allergy sufferers more advanced warning about the likely seriousness of their symptoms could provide relief to Elly Kirkham and her brother Jake.

The Brisbane siblings both suffer from asthma and allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, while Elly, 18, is at risk of anaphylaxis from peanuts and Jake, 14, from shellfish.

They have suffered from constant runny noses, swelling, and itchy and watery eyes their entire lives.

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Authors:
Marie Keatley

Marie Keatley
Adjunct Associate, Department of Forest and Ecosystem Science at University of Melbourne

Lynda Chambers

Lynda Chambers
Principal Research Scientist at the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research at Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Paul Beggs

Paul Beggs
Environmental Health Scientist at Macquarie University


Every Spring, the blanket of Australian alpine snow starts to melt, and the Mountain Pygmy Possum wakes up from its seven-month-long hibernation.

Naturally after so long under the snow, its first thought is to find food. But over the last few years, the snow’s been melting earlier, and an important food source – the Bogong moth – is arriving later on its yearly migration, leaving these endangered possums to go hungry.

In Australia, spring-time events on the land, as well as in freshwater and marine systems are now generally occurring earlier than they used to.

It’s now late spring, with summer just around the corner, and many people with hay fever suffer at this time of year in Australia. Although the cause of this suffering is invisible to us, it is actually all around us — plant pollen floating in the air.

The 500 million people in the world who suffer from allergies may be alarmed to learn that the major global outdoor allergen, grass pollen, is likely to significantly increase with climate change. In fact the latest research from the US shows that if there’s twice as much CO2 in the atmosphere there could be three times as much grass pollen allergen in the air.

Authors:
Ed Newbigin

Ed Newbigin
Associate Professor of Botany at University of Melbourne

Janet Davies

Janet Davies
Senior Research Fellow, Lung and Allergy Research Centre at The University of Queensland


Ah, spring, the sun shines again, the birds sing and - ach-hoo! Airborne grass pollens trigger bouts of hay fever and episodes of asthma in people with pollen allergies.

But there is a way we could mitigate the impact of the season - pollen counts. These work in the same way as summer UV alerts, by telling us when there’s enough of something around to cause health harms.

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