A Croatian political platform called ‘We can!’ held a round table in December 2019 called “Are we all in the same boat?”. The main topic was climate change and its consequences. One of the guests was Mrs Dunja Mazzocco Drvar, meteorologist at the Croatian commercial TV channel RTL, interviewed by a Croatian online news outlet Tportal after the event. In an attempt to emphasize the problem, she stated that by year 2030 half of Europeans would be allergic to pollen as a consequence of climate changes. In this article we check if this estimation is correct, but also the presumed correlation between climate change and increasing number of pollen allergies.
Mrs Dunja Mazzocco Drvar can be considered an expert in this field. She is a broadcast meteorologist for more than 15 years, with a degree in physics of atmosphere and sea at the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, University of Zagreb. Over the years she’s been working at Hydrometeorological Institute of Croatia as a meteorologist and she’s a published academic author. Also, she was awarded with the TV Weather Forecast Award 2018 by the European Meteorological Society.
We contacted Mrs Mazzocco Drvar and asked for relevant publications that support her claim. She referred us to the advocacy manifesto of ‘The European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology’ (EAACI), an association with more than 11,000 members from 124 countries and over 50 National Allergy Societies, described on the website as “the primary source of expertise in Europe for all aspects of allergy.“ In the foreword of the manifesto, it is stated that “Today, more than 150 million Europeans suffer from chronic allergic diseases and the current prediction is that by 2025 half of the entire EU population will be affected.“
First of all, while Mrs Mazzocco Drvar stated that by 2030 more than half of Europeans will suffer from chronic allergic diseases, EAACI’s manifesto says that this will happen by 2025. Also, the manifesto refers to the EU population, while Europeans are a wider category and include non-EU countries as well. Furthermore, this information in the manifesto is not presented as research finding, but an estimation that is not further supported by any relevant scientific studies that may lead to this conclusion. However, EAACI’s estimation has been quoted by charities, research foundations and EP interest groups. Also, in the manifesto it is stated that “in recent years EAACI has led major public awareness campaigns on allergy, developed a series of public declarations on specific advocacy topics (e.g. Immunotherapy, Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis) and organised dedicated policy events in the European Parliament“. Therefore, the association and its estimations are considered relevant and trustworthy in the profession, even though it remains unclear in what way this estimation was developed. According to meteorologist Dunja Mazzocco Drvar, this manifesto is a relevant source.
Second, the correlation made by Mrs Mazzocco Drvar between allergies, especially pollen allergies, and climate change, is supported by scientific findings.
Dittlein and others and Gilles-Stein and others explain in their studies (both from 2016) that the cause of allergic reactions to pollen grains are not exclusively protein allergens, which are often considered the main culprits for the formation allergy. Pollen allergies are also caused by biochemical cells that are a part of pollen. According to the study of Beckova and others from 2013, these structures are affected by climate changes and can intensify pollen allergies. As the abstract states, “Evidence is compelling for a positive correlation between climate change, urbanisation and prevalence of allergic sensitisation and diseases. The reason for this association is not clear to date”.
Furthermore, Sofiev and others confirmed that there is a correlation between the increasing number of pollens in the air and the processes of urbanization, industrialization, environmental pollution and climate change. Damialis and Sofiev and their colleagues state that big amounts of exhaust gases raise the level of air pollution, which leads to more people suffering from allergies, especially in urban areas. The mentioned studies estimate that there will be more seasons of pollen and that they will last longer. Also, polluted cells of pollen irritate the mucous membranes of the lungs and make people less resistant to it. According to the estimation by Lake and others, until 2060 the amount of different pollen allergies in Europe will probably double.
Therefore, while the year that Mrs Dunja Mazzocco Drvar mentioned is not correct, it is still close. Also, the information about half of the EU population being allergic by year 2025 is not supported by scientific findings in EAACI’s manifesto, however we assessed this association as relevant and trustworthy source in the field, along with its estimations. The second part of the statement that makes a correlation between allergies and climate change is also supported by scientific studies mentioned above. In conclusion, we assess that this statement is mostly true.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE: Paula Brico, Katja Knezevic & Karla Lemaic, University of Zagreb, Croatia