How El Niño Will Affect Your Pollen Allergies

May 19, 2024
2 min read
How El Niño Will Affect Your Pollen Allergies How El Niño Will Affect Your Pollen Allergies
Content Writer
  • Allergic rhinitis affects over 400 million people worldwide, with numbers rising by 10-30% each decade. 
  • The intense El Niño and increased pollen load—both generally associated with climate change—are having a negative impact on people living with allergies.
  • Bad allergy seasons worsen symptoms: itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing, fatigue, rashes, and so on. In addition to being unpleasant, these symptoms can disrupt sleep and may negatively affect work.
  • The increasing socio-economic burden of pollen allergies needs data intervention.


Bless you!

You might be hearing this quite often. The time has come again when nature awakens with beauty, but so do your allergies.

If you've been sneezing more than ever this year, you're not alone. Allergy seasons worldwide have gotten a huge jumpstart.

And that means bad news for over 400 million people worldwide

Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, represents a global health concern as it affects nearly 30% of the population and is the 6th leading cause of chronic illnesses in the United States. It has become more than just a seasonal inconvenience. Pollen allergies are also very closely linked to respiratory problems, implicating viral infections, decreased productivity, and reduced quality of life.

New research indicates that presently, pollen season starts 20 days earlier, lasts 10 days longer, and features 21% more pollen than in 1990.

Why is this happening? Brace yourself, it’s definitely getting worse.

While climate change is certainly a culprit, this age-old issue is also exacerbated by a new factor: El Niño.

Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the return of El Niño after seven years. Every few years, this event emerges in the Pacific Ocean.

Then, why is this a matter of concern?

When we have El Niño conditions, the globe gets slightly hotter than average. It amplifies the effects of climate change by intensifying extreme weather events. All this traces back  to high CO₂ levels in the atmosphere and erratic precipitation patterns. So, plants grow more robustly and produce more pollen.

But, What is El Niño?

El Niño, a crucial component of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), is a climatic phenomenon that originates in the tropical Pacific Ocean. ENSO unfolds in three phases:

  • El Niño: Warm phase, characterized by above-average sea-surface temperature in the central and eastern tropical Pacific

  • La Niña: Cool phase, characterized by unusual cooling of the region's surface waters.

  • Neutral: The transition between warm and cold phases. The temperature variation is within 0.9 ℉ (0.5 ℃).

In El Niño years, the world faces more intense heat waves, prolonged hot seasons, uneven rainfall patterns, and more powerful storms. These events significantly reduce global economic growth, with effects that may intensify in the future.

Source: NOAA

Scientists fully monitored the 1997-1998 El Niño event for the first time. It caused floods and droughts that wreaked havoc on Earth, resulting in losses worth $5.7 trillion. This was one of the strongest El Niños ever recorded. The forecasting systems were accurate in predicting the evolution of the 2015-2016 El Niño. It broke warming records in the central Pacific and triggered disease outbreaks globally, putting it on par with 1972-1973.

This year, however, experts have cautioned that El Niño weather could be even more erratic, and as a result, the upcoming allergy seasons could look a little different than normal.

What does El Niño have to do with pollen seasons?

The correlation between warmer weather and pollen season shows us irrefutable evidence of how climate change coupled with El Niño impacts pollen count.

Let us explore this connection.

1. Longer and earlier growing season: Warmer temperatures associated with El Niño affect plant behavior. Some produce pollen early in spring, while others, like ragweed, extend the growing season into fall. A longer and more intense pollen season can lead to severe physical symptom.

2. Increased pollen production: If a particular area experiences prolonged warmth before and during allergy season, the pollen count will increase, resulting in more severe symptoms for allergy sufferers. El Niño's wet winter following a period of drought promotes the growth of trees and grasses, leading to higher pollen levels.

3. Priming effect: Individuals who experience mild symptoms early in the season develop even stronger symptoms when the pollen count rises again. This phenomenon contributes to the overall severity of allergy seasons

4. Change in weather pattern: El niño disrupts atmospheric circulation patterns, resulting in rainfall in some regions and drought in others. Rainfall can split pollen into smaller, more allergenic fragments. The increased moisture potentially exacerbates allergy symptoms.

Source: Climate Central

As mentioned before, El niño causes erratic weather patterns. Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns influence wind-borne pollen, which is crucial to plant fertilization. It can intensify allergic reactions by making the protein within pollen grains more potent.

The colder counterpart, La Niña, can also impact allergies by creating wetter conditions. Australia, for instance, has one of the world's highest allergy prevalence rates and often issues pollen warnings during La Niña season.

A study published in Nature last year projected a 200% increase in pollen count by the end of the century if planet-warming pollution continues to rise.

This brings us to our next concern.

Where does climate change fit in?

The climate is changing, resulting in altered precipitation patterns, longer frost-free periods, and increased atmospheric CO₂ levels. Rising global temperatures, primarily due to burning fossil fuels and widespread deforestation, are a significant concern.

These changes can affect several aspects related to pollen, including when the pollen season begins and ends, the amount of pollen produced by plants, and the quantity of pollen in the air.

Well, welcome to the world where your sneeze carries more weight around than it used to. Allergies typically manifest as itchy eyes, runny nose, or scratchy throat, which can also trigger asthma in some people.

It is concerning that 2016 was the hottest year on record due to the synergistic effects of  El Niño and increased greenhouse gas.

Sadly, the state of the climate has continued to deteriorate since then.

As you know, 2023 lies at the confluence of climate change, El Niño, and aggravated pollen season. Rebound from a long La Niña points to a strong El Niño this winter.

Intrigued to know more? Watch  “The El Niño Effect: Why you’re sneezing more than ever”

El Niño, being an unpredictable partner of climate change, brings us to the age of worsening pollen allergies. You may experience more sneezing and sniffling.

Did you know that according to WHO, allergies could affect up to half of the population by 2050? Another study even refers to it as the invisible killer. The growing allergy menace has not spared the business world.

This underlines the importance of pollen forecasting. Now is the time to rethink your business strategies.

For more insights, read: How Can Pollen Data Reshape Your Business? | Ambee

Here’s how you can keep track of pollen

The sneeze-inducing connection between El Niño and allergies highlights the far-reaching consequences of climate change. El Niño events may cause $84T in economic losses by the century's end (Science). As we approach a new weather normal, climate intelligence buys us precious time to prepare.

Climate intelligence is reshaping how people strategize and oversee their surroundings. At Ambee, we have been developing resources to build climate resilience so that individuals and businesses have the ability to plan, manage, and monitor such events.

Stay ahead of pollen season with Ambee’s pollen data. Get in touch today!

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