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Climate change triggers hay fever explosion

Girl sneezing
Keystone/Gaetan Bally

Climate change has led to a sharp rise in the number of people suffering from hay fever in Switzerland. A hundred years ago hay fever was largely unknown in Switzerland, but today it affects around one in five people in Switzerland.

Climate change has led to many allergy-causing plants releasing their pollen earlier and with greater intensity, according to a factsheet published by the Swiss Academy of Sciences (SCNAT) on Tuesday. Climate change also favours the spread of invasive, highly allergenic plants such as ragweed.

Air pollution could also have contributed to the spread of hay fever. According to the researchers, plants stressed by poor air quality appear to produce pollen that triggers stronger allergic reactions. Air pollution can also damage people’s airways, which promotes asthma and hay fever.

+ Landmark ruling: Switzerland’s climate policy violates human rights

According to the factsheet, an estimated 0.8% of the population were allergic to pollen in 1926. Today, it is estimated that around 20% of people in Switzerland are affected. The increase in the frequency of allergies is therefore a global phenomenon.

In addition to the impact on the quality of life of those affected, this also has economic consequences: “In Switzerland, it is estimated that they amount to between CHF1 billion ($1.1 billion) and CHF4 billion a year,” the factsheet says. This includes both direct costs for medication or hospitalisation as well as indirect costs due to reduced productivity and missed school and workdays.

+ City dwellers more likely to suffer from hay fever

The factsheet was compiled by researchers from the Swiss Commission for Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, SCNAT and the Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology (MeteoSwiss).

The researchers propose a series of measures to combat this. These include limiting climate change and air pollution, combating invasive species, appropriate planting in communities and a warning system.

Translated from German by DeepL/ts

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