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ACS: Air Pollution Can Up Potency of Birch Tree Pollen

Pollutants plus climate change linked to increase in prevalence of allergies worldwide

MONDAY, March 23, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Certain air pollutants may boost the potency of a birch tree pollen that plays a big role in seasonal allergies, researchers say. The findings were scheduled for presentation Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, held from March 22 to 26 in Denver.

In laboratory tests and computer simulations, researchers found that two pollutants — ozone and nitrogen dioxide — have a significant effect on the pollen, called Bet v 1. Specifically, these pollutants appear to provoke chemical changes in the pollen that seem to raise its potency. Levels of both ozone and nitrogen dioxide are also tied to climate change, according to a team including Ulrich Poschl, Ph.D., of the Max Planck Institute in Mainz, Germany. This study finding, in combination with climate change, might help explain why airborne allergies are becoming more common, the researchers said.

Still, “scientists have long suspected that air pollution and climate change are involved in the increasing prevalence of allergies worldwide,” Poschl said in an American Chemical Society news release. “Understanding the underlying chemical processes behind this phenomenon has proven elusive,” he added. “Our research is just a starting point, but it does begin to suggest how chemical modifications in allergenic proteins occur,” potentially affecting people’s allergic response, Poschl said.

The investigators plan further research to determine if and how other pollens are affected by air pollutants.

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