Australia unprepared for climate change impact on allergies

The review in the latest issue of Public Health Research & Practice, published by the Sax Institute, looks at studies since 2000 relating to climate change, allergens and allergy. It includes recent research from Europe and North America that finds higher temperatures and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will significantly boost levels of allergens in the air such as grass pollen. At the same time, the pollen season is changing, starting earlier and going on for longer. Again, the result is substantially more pollen in the air.

In November 2016, Melbourne experienced “the world’s largest, most catastrophic epidemic thunderstorm asthma event” that caused thousands of emergency department presentations, hundreds of asthma-related hospital admissions and 10 deaths. The odds of such extreme weather events are greatly increased with climate change, the review finds.

Evidence shows that higher temperatures can also lead to increased production of fungal spores, another trigger for many susceptible people, as well as boosting indoor moisture and mould growth, which can cause allergic reactions.

“It could be argued that these impacts pose a serious climate change-human health risk to Australia and that they should therefore be among Australia’s climate change-human health priorities,” Associate Professor Beggs says.

But Australia’s research efforts in this area have been woefully inadequate, and much of the international research has been done in climates unlike our own, involving allergens that are not common here.

Our allergen monitoring is equally poor, Associate Professor Beggs says, with no national, state or territory body having responsibility for the monitoring, reporting and forecasting of environmental allergens.

What monitoring exists is sparse and sporadic. For example, in Melbourne, scene of the deadly thunderstorm asthma event, allergen monitoring only occurs for three months of the year. Elsewhere in Australia, monitoring remains precarious, with all sites either unfunded or subsisting on short-term funding.

This review of climate change and allergy is one of a number of papers dealing with health and climate change in a special themed issue of Public Health Research & Practice, overseen by co-Guest Editors Anthony Capon, the inaugural Professor of Planetary Health at the University of Sydney, and Dr Carlos Corvalan, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Sydney.

Other research in this issue includes a paper on extreme events in the context of climate change, authored by Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick and Professor Andy Pitman from the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales. Building resilience to events such as heatwaves and drought is the best safeguard against threats to our health resulting from climate change, they argue.

Another article on built environment interventions argues that landscapers, architects, urban planners and designers play a critical role in addressing the health impacts of climate change.

“Built environment interventions must move beyond simple ecological sustainability to encouraging ways of life that are healthy for both humans and the planet,” write Associate Professor Jason Prior of the University of Technology Sydney and colleagues.

Dr Colin Tukuitonga, who has served as Pacific Community Director-General since 2014, is interviewed by Public Health Research & Practice Editor-in-Chief Professor Don Nutbeam on the health risks from climate change to Pacific Island countries. Financial assistance from countries like Australia and New Zealand is critical to helping these countries build resilience, he says.

“These papers and current evidence point to the urgent need for stronger action on climate change to protect the health and wellbeing of current and future generations,” write Professor Capon and Dr Corvalan in the issue’s editorial.

For access to the full contents of the latest issue of Public Health Research & Practice, please contact the Sax Institute’s media manager (details below).


Hugo Wilcken, Media Manager, Sax Institute
M: 0451 122 146    E:

Nyssa Skilton, PHRP Editor
M: 0408 331 262    E:


Public Health Research & Practice is an open-access, peer-reviewed, Medline-listed quarterly online journal published by the Sax Institute. Click here to subscribe for free.

Please acknowledge Public Health Research & Practice as the source for any stories on our papers. The link to the published climate change and allergy article will be: This link can be included in news stories and will be active once the embargo lifts.