Allergic diseases are a major public health problem and their burden is expected to keep increasing as a result of various interactions between changes in the environment and lifestyle.
We argue that environmental degradation, driven by environmental nitrogen pollution from industry, agriculture and traffic, may be an important yet underexplored global driver of increased aeroallergen abundance and potency, leading to 1) altered allergenic landscapes, 2) higher allergy prevalence, and 3) higher allergy symptom severity. Through multiple impacts on multiple traits at multiple levels, environmental nitrogen pollution may lead to changes in plant community composition and plant pollen biochemical properties that result in an escalating burden of allergic disease.
It is urgently needed to quantify the impact of nitrogen pollution on plant and pollen traits that determine allergenicity and symptom severity to understand, prevent, and control nitrogen-driven allergy risks to public health. These insights are needed to better inform environmental policy with respect to the reduction of nitrogen pollution, which at present only aims to support the conservation of biodiversity and not to protect public health. Improved policy measures may help to maintain the favorable conservation status of vulnerable habitats such as heathlands, but also help to sustain the habitability of areas prone to nitrogen pollution, such as urbanized and industrialized regions, and regions with intensive agriculture.