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Bad times come for allergy sufferers: According to an international study, the pollen count will occur even more intensely than is the case today. The period will also last longer, as researchers from the Technical University of Munich report. The number of people affected will also increase continuously. Environmental pollution could be the reason for the increased pollen count.
Every second Englishman shows allergic reactions
In a joint study, scientists from all over Europe examined the allergic potential of birch trees, grasses and olives. The three types of plants mentioned are the most common triggers for pollen allergy and hay fever throughout Europe. Patients react "very differently" to pollen. In the course of the “Hialine study”, the research team was able to determine that “the effectiveness of the pollen varies”. Times and regions depend on this. Depending on the volume of protein compounds produced, "which are responsible for the allergic reactions of the immune system". In their study report, the experts warn of a real allergy boom in Europe and Germany. Politics should act quickly to stop the spread. According to the study results, the pollen burden will increase massively in the next few years. In a few years, around 50 percent of people in Europe could suffer from allergies.
Around 20 million Germans already suffer from allergies. This means that statistically every third adult is allergic. "The tendency is increasing," said the head of the Munich Center for Allergy and Environment, Prof. Dr. Carsten B. Schmidt-Weber. Not only will the number of pollen allergies increase, but also that of food allergies. In the 1950s, only two to five percent of the population in Germany was affected by allergies. In Britain, according to the researcher, every second inhabitant already shows allergic immune responses.
Air pollution could be the cause
"The reasons why allergic diseases of the respiratory tract increased in the 20th century have not yet been fully clarified," says the study report of the specialist magazine "Plos One". However, it can be assumed that air pollution "allergens and the reactions of allergic patients are amplified in a variety of ways," said the researchers. However, the relationships have not yet been fully clarified to explain the increasing rates with the increased air pollution.
Severe complications from allergies
Not only the complaints such as runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, rashes and shortness of breath are stressful for those affected. The complications of allergies such as asthma or bronchitis are particularly problematic, explains the professor. "Something will come up to us there," urges Prof. Jeroen Buters, an expert in molecular allergology at the Technical University of Munich. In this context, he calls for a "better early warning system for pollen". Politicians are also obliged to address the issue more than before. Finally, the increase also means an additional burden on the health system.
Highly allergenic ragweed spreads
Ambrosia is a very dangerous and highly allergenic plant. It is spreading more and more and worries scientists. "If we wait five to eight years, Bavaria will be infected," warned Buters. Ambrosia allergies often lead to numerous cross-allergies, as the German Society for Allergology and Clinical Immunology (DGAKI) recently explained. Frequently, “patients in a row also develop allergies to spices such as parsley, pepper or celery.” Ambrosia is known by experts as the “most allergenic plant worldwide”. Depending on the weather, the pollen count of the ambrosia begins at the end of July and in the course of August. As a result, sufferers suffer from massive symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, asthma, swollen eyes and headaches. Symptoms can extend into late autumn and winter.
Ambrosia is currently spreading westwards
According to Schmidt-Weber, ambrosia spreads from east to west, especially along the highways. Scientists suspect that the seeds stick to the trucks and cars and then gradually fall off. Many state health authorities have already reported an ambrosia infestation. For some years now, the Berlin area in particular has been excessively affected.
Not only are the pollen growing, says Annette Menzel, professor of ecoclimatology at the Technical University of Munich, but the period of pollen flight is also expanding. This is due to the ongoing global warming. "Overall, the flowering period is extended. Hazel flowers in December," said Menzel. The fatal thing: when most other allergenic plants stop blooming, ambrosia is added in many federal states.
According to the study, the amount of pollen has increased significantly across Europe. Climate change will intensify this trend, Menzel emphasized. The reason for this could be the rising carbon dioxide concentration. Plants were exposed to an increased amount of carbon dioxide in the laboratory. The result showed that they grew faster and produced more pollen.
Pollen is not the same as pollen
In the course of the research, however, it was observed that it is probably not the amount of pollen that is responsible for the allergy-causing symptoms, but rather the amount of allergenic substances. Because "pollen is not the same as pollen", as the scientists emphasize. Rather, it depends on how long the pollen matures and how much time they have to "pump themselves full of allergens," says Buters. This has been shown by studies from Finland to Italy, from Spain to Lithuania during the three-year Hialine study, in which a total of 13 research institutions took part.
“However, there were sometimes blatant differences in terms of individual days and measuring stations,” says Buters. "The allergic potential varied by a factor of 10, which means that on the 'strong' days up to ten times more allergen was released than on others." However, the "different amounts of protein compounds were ultimately responsible for the immune response." Allergy sufferers can Support research work. The scientist therefore calls on those affected to participate in an online diary so that the experiences made can be compared with the findings.
Allergy sufferers can support researchers
The researchers now hope that the measurements of allergens could provide better predictions for allergy sufferers compared to pollen count. "With combined evaluations of allergen measurements, pollen count and weather data, we could significantly improve previous allergy models." This could also be used to develop more effective therapies. With hyposensitization, doctors would be able to treat the actual triggers, the allergenic proteins, in perspective. The treatment would be “significantly more targeted”. (sb)
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