Hay fever in Switzerland: the worst is yet to come

Hay fever in Switzerland: the worst is yet to come
Hay fever in Switzerland: the worst is yet to come

Itchy eyes, runny nose or dry throat: hay fever has started again for some of the Swiss for some time. And allergy sufferers are not at the end of their troubles. Quite the contrary, as stated in a recent report from the Swiss Commission for Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP) regarding the impact of climate change on these allergies.

Indeed, “the annual cycle of plants and the pollen season are closely linked to meteorology,” note the scientists. In Switzerland, this relationship results in a pollen season that begins earlier and earlier, the fault of “higher temperatures in winter and spring”. Hazelnut trees and alders, for example, now begin to produce pollen in January whereas for a long time they did so from February.

Climate change also favors the spread of “invasive and highly allergenic” plants, such as ragweed, underlines the ACP report. In addition to being longer, pollen seasons are progressively more intense in terms of pollen concentration in the air.

But it’s not just climate that affects allergies. Pollution, too, plays its role in the intensification of pollen seasons, because the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere boosts plant productivity. Over the last thirty years, a “significant increase” in the quantities of tree pollen has been observed in Switzerland. This situation combined with the increase in respiratory problems, again due to pollution, can have a considerable effect on allergy sufferers.

Faced with the scale of the phenomenon and its very likely future expansion, researchers mention a “public health problem”. The latter are therefore calling for the implementation of measures by public authorities, such as the eradication of certain allergenic plants or better planning of plantations in urban areas.

A boom in cases and costs

In around a hundred years, hay fever has experienced a real boom in Switzerland. In 1926, just 0.8% of the population was considered allergic, according to the Swiss Commission for Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Today, this proportion is around 20%. A rise in cases which was accompanied by serious economic consequences. Indeed, between treatment costs and indirect costs linked to reduced productivity and absences, an amount estimated between 1 and 4 billion francs is spent each year in the fight against hay fever.

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