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As Allergies Rise 32%, Are Climate Change Measures Adding to the Problem?

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NHS data says 1 in 4 people have allergies, but the latest results from London Medical Laboratory show it is likely to be as high as 1 in 3. It says climate change is exposing us to new allergens, but cautions some measures aimed at halting global warming could actually put us at a higher risk of asthma or anaphylaxis.

There has been a significant increase in the amount of people developing reactions to allergens such as pollen and insect venom. The National Health Service traditionally states that around one in four Brits will be affected by allergies at some point in their lives. However, new data from London Medical Laboratory reveals one in three people are now showing potentially severe allergies – 32% more than previous estimates.

The leading testing expert, Dr Quinton Fivelman PhD, chief scientific officer at London Medical Laboratory, says: ’Looking at the results of our allergy tests, there have been a considerable jump in the number of people showing high sensitisation to allergens. With most allergies, the first exposure sensitises our body to a particular allergen, so that the second time we come into contact with particular pollens or are stung, for example, the reaction could be far worse.’

‘It’s highly likely that climate change is one of the key reasons for this rise. The warmer weather means non-native plants and insects are becoming established in the UK, and the pollen season is getting longer.

‘New University of Michigan research reveals that, by the end of this century, global pollen emissions could begin 40 days earlier in the spring compared to 1995. Allergy sufferers could see that season last an additional 19 days before high pollen counts subside.

‘As the average UK temperature rises, new species of plants, grasses and trees are taking root here. These bring with them new pollens. Brits will have to get used to a wider varieties of insects in the future as well. For example, the first colony of paper wasps was found in Warwickshire in 2019.  These usually live in southern Europe, where it is far warmer. The venom in their sting is a known trigger of allergic reactions.

‘Ironically, some measures being introduced to counteract global warming could also be increasing our exposure to potential allergens. To help meet the UK’s target of offsetting carbon emissions, the Government plans to increase woodland cover in the UK from 13% to 19% by 2050. Fast-growing, non-native conifers are being recommended by some scientists. These trees will expose us to new pollens. London Medical Laboratory’s allergy test looks at pollens from coniferous trees as diverse as Arizona cypress and mountain cedar, the latter being a notorious trigger for “cedar fever” allergy in parts of America.

‘As the world tries to grow greener, there will also be an increased emphasis on easting less meat. Cattle produce methane, a greenhouse gas with a warming potential more than 28 times that of carbon dioxide (Co2). To increase grazing land, forests around the globe are being destroyed. Food scientists are increasingly investigating a far more compact, protein-rich source of food – insects. For example, crickets are superfoods of the near future, containing 12 times more protein than beef.

‘Unfortunately, insects are also potential allergens. Crickets and mealworms may be  staple foods of the future, but our tests are detecting quite high sensitisation levels among people who have tried them once. They may be similar to shellfish as a potential cause of allergic reactions.

‘Despite these issues, something clearly must be done to reduce pollution. Co2 levels are now known to directly increase the quantity of pollen in the atmosphere. A recent study in the European medical journal “Allergy” revealed that plants produce more pollen as a response to high atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide.

‘Allergy tests typically grade people’s reactions to many common and less familiar potential allergens from 0 to 4. A level 4 result indicates high sensitisation has taken place, which could prompt a reaction such as an asthma attack or anaphylactic shock if they are exposed to the substance again.

‘Overall, we are seeing a higher number of level 4 results than previous official figures would lead us to expect. Our latest data aligns with recent findings from the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, which shows the number of people living with allergies in the UK is rising by 5% every year.

‘That’s why we need to be testing for more potential allergens, as the UK’s climate changes. London Medical Laboratory’s new Allergy Complete blood test is the UK’s most comprehensive allergy test, analysing 295 allergens, from paper wasp venom to mealworms, as well as all the traditional British allergens from dust mites to bee stings.

‘For anyone concerned about their future reaction to a sting, certain foods or pollens, London Medical Laboratory’s Allergy Complete is highly accurate, quick and simple to carry out, either at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer this test across London, the southeast and selected pharmacies and health stores.’

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