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It’s true: You can blame Climate change for making your allergies & asthma worse, Philly.
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It’s true: You can blame Climate change for making your allergies & asthma worse, Philly.

It’s not just in your head: Philly is ranked 28th for allergy & asthma sufferers. And not everyone is affected equally.

Those cherry trees may be beautiful.  But for many Philadelphians, the sight of bright pink flowers means it’s time to stock up on tissues.

More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies, many of them pollen-related. In 2021, Philly was ranked the 28th worst city in the US for allergy sufferers by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).

Even worse, a huge number of Philly’s citizens — allergy sufferers or not — have been diagnosed with asthma. As the 4th worst US city for asthma sufferers, a shocking 14% of children raised here suffer from the condition. Black Americans are 1.5 times more likely to suffer from asthma as white Americans, and Hispanic Americans suffer from the condition at a rate of 2 times more. Disturbingly, Black children are almost 6 times as likely to be hospitalized for asthma attacks as white children, and Black women are at even higher risk of hospitalization and mortality.

With 60% of asthma sufferers experiencing allergy-induced asthma, these two disorders are intimately linked. And as Philly continues to feel the effects of climate change, health outcomes will continue to get worse — especially in the hardest-hit low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

Longer allergy seasons

pollen philadelphia
Photo: Climate Central

Increasing temperatures and atmospheric CO2 levels are causing spring growing season to lengthen. That means plants are spending more time producing pollen, so sufferers are being subjected to high pollen counts for longer than ever. Even worse, plants are releasing more pollen than before. A 2021 study found that average pollen seasons have increased by 20 days and average pollen counts have increased 21% since the 1990s. So if you feel like your allergies have gotten worse every year, you’re not alone.

The more pollen in the air, the more sufferers risk severe and even deadly asthma attacks. And of course, those with non-allergic asthma are also put at risk by pollution — and their asthma may even be caused by it.

Factories and processing plants, like the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery, which pumped large amounts of NO2 and SO2 into the lungs of its neighbors before shutting down after its 2019 explosion, contributed to high rates of asthma and lung cancers in surrounding areas. And minority racial and ethnic Philadelphians, who are more likely to live close to industrial areas, are put at higher risk. These conditions are further exacerbated by the changes in severity and duration of allergy season, since allergic asthma sufferers may experience particularly bad symptoms or even hospitalization when tree and grass pollen levels peak during the spring growing season.

So if you’re feeling especially icky and itchy these days, you may be able to blame it on climate change. But if you’re not already wearing a mask when you go outside, consider wearing one to shield your face from the pollen (as an added bonus, glasses or sunglasses will protect your eyes, too!). Make sure to wash your masks and clothes often, as pollen can stick to fabric and keep you sneezing long after you’ve come indoors.


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Sophie Brous
Sophie Brous is an editorial intern at Green Philly. Born and raised in NYC, she now attends Haverford College, where she majors in linguistics. When she's not writing, she can be found exploring cities, making arts and crafts, and finding ways to live a greener lifestyle. View all posts by Sophie Brous

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