OBJECTIVES: The impacts of climate change on allergens and allergic diseases are important and potentially serious in Australia. Australia is highly vulnerable to such impacts because of its very high prevalence of allergic diseases such as asthma and allergic rhinitis, and allergic sensitisation to environmental allergens such as certain pollens and fungal spores. This article aims to review published research on the impacts of climate change on allergens and allergic diseases from an Australian perspective.
METHODS: Research on climate change, allergens and allergy was reviewed. Recent global assessments of the topic were consulted, and supplemented with database searches to identify research published since the assessments were done, as well as research with an Australian focus. The databases used were Web of Science and Scopus. Only research published since the year 2000 was included.
RESULTS: The impacts of climate change on allergens and allergic diseases are many and varied. Impacts on pollen include effects on pollen production and atmospheric pollen concentration, pollen seasonality, pollen allergenicity, and the dispersion and spatial distribution of pollen. Similarly, there is evidence for effects on fungal spore production, seasonality and allergenicity. There are also likely effects on indoor moisture and mould growth. Beyond these respiratory allergens, climate change may also affect food allergens, stinging insect allergens and contact allergens. All these changes could affect allergic diseases, in particular allergic respiratory diseases such as allergic asthma and allergic rhinitis.
CONCLUSIONS: A large and sophisticated body of research exists from which to gauge both current and potential future impacts of climate change on allergens and allergic diseases. However, most, if not all, of this is from outside Australia. Australian-focused research is therefore urgently needed. Australia's vulnerability to the adverse effects of climate change on allergic diseases is compounded by the precarious nature of aeroallergen monitoring, reporting and forecasting in this country. But Australia has an impressive wealth of relevant experience and expertise, and has the potential to address the challenge of both current and future impacts of climate change on allergens and allergic diseases.