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Millions of people across the United States suffer from allergies that worsen when seasons change. The aggressive, allergenic pollen from plants such as ambrosia artemisiifolia — otherwise known as ragweed — spikes during fall season. Despite the fact that these plants live only one season, they emit up to a billion particles of pollen before they die. Recent research suggests that air pollution has caused ragweed pollen to proliferate further, increasing the suffering for people with allergies.
The potency and concentration of ragweed pollen has proven to increase when exposed to air pollution. A study conducted by the German Research Center for Environmental Health concluded that the plant experiences greater stress when exposed to nitrogen dioxide (NO2). First author Dr. Feng Zhao declared that “our data showed that the stress on the plant caused by NO2 modulated the protein composition of the pollen. Different isoforms of the known allergen Amb a 1 were significantly elevated.” The Amb a 1 version of the ragweed allergen binds to IgE antibodies, causing it to create allergic side effects, such as hay fever, runny nose, and respiratory problems.
Not only does the concentration of pollen increase, but the aggressiveness of ragweed pollen rises with the addition of pollution, making it more likely to trigger an allergic response. In fact, ragweed pollen close to roadways are much more allergenic than those located away from motor vehicles.
As researchers performed their experiments with varying levels of NO2, they discovered that the allergen Amb a 1 changed according to the amount of pollution present. The proteins that comprise the pollen become altered, turning into various isoforms that differ slightly.
Incredibly, one of the most striking findings of the study revealed that pollution elicited a brand-new protein in the ragweed pollen. This particular protein represents a new type of allergen that the researchers plan to study in greater detail. Oddly enough, the protein is similar to one usually found in rubber trees, fungi, and other plants that aren’t ragweed.
This increases the diversity of the pollen emitted by ragweed, which increases the effects of allergy season in the presence of heavy pollution.
Have you noticed your allergy symptoms getting worse? It could be that pollution is having an impact. If you have any questions about allergies or wish to reduce the effects of allergy season, contact Houston Sinus & Allergy to learn more about allergy treatment options.