Allergy season in Kansas City worse each year, studies show

Have your seasonal allergies hitting you harder than ever in recent years? It’s not your imagination: Studies show that pollen counts are increasing and that spring is arriving earlier in Kansas City.

Researchers have linked more intense allergy seasons to the climate crisis, since warmer temperatures can lead to more pollen in the air and cause the weather to warm up earlier. Here’s what we know about how allergies impact the Kansas City area.

Why is allergy season getting more intense?

Longer and more prolific pollen seasons are just one symptom of a rapidly warming climate. Air pollution can also contribute to respiratory conditions like asthma and exacerbate humans’ reactions to allergens.

“When CO2 goes up, plants tend to grow a little bigger, they tend to put out more flowers as a fraction of their mass, and individual flowers tend to have more pollen on them,” biologist William Anderegg told Vox News last year.

Higher temperatures also make these flowers bloom earlier in the year, moving up the start of allergy season.

What changes have been observed in Kansas City?

A 2012 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that tree pollen in Kansas City increased in volume over a 15-year period. The most common pollen varieties were from oak, mulberry and juniper trees.

A 2017 study in the same journal found that in just the five years from 2013 through 2017, the timing of peak pollen levels shifted two weeks earlier in the year.

“As our climate changes, it is important to continue to monitor the changing local allergen patterns to help guide asthma management,” the study concluded. It also found “strong correlations” between local pollen levels and asthma attacks requiring hospitalization among children.

How do we know humans are to blame?

While some of these seasonal changes have natural causes, human contributions to the climate crisis play a significant role.

A 28-year study released last year by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) used climate modeling to conclude that human activity is around 50% responsible for pollen season’s earlier arrivals, and around 8% responsible for the higher concentrations of pollen measured in the air.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions could help reverse some of these trends. Kansas City is currently working on a climate action plan that aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.

Do you have more questions about the impacts of the climate crisis on Kansas City? Ask the Service Journalism team at kcq@kcstar.com.

Natalie Wallington is a reporter on the Star’s service desk covering government programs, community resources, COVID-19 data and environmental action among other topics. Her journalism work has previously appeared in the Washington Post, Audubon Magazine, Popular Science, VICE News, and elsewhere.

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