The Scoop on Pollen

By Heather Legg

For those who suffer from pollen allergies, an online check of pollen counts is probably part of the daily routine, especially during the high pollen season of spring. However, at the recent 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) in San Francisco, researchers said that pollen counts are not always accurate. So now what are allergy sufferers to do with the pollen counts that they so depended on before?

Pollen counts are indexes of how much pollen is in the air and are expressed in grains of pollen per cubic meter over a certain time period, like 24 hours. The higher the count is, the more pollen is in the air and the more allergies will be effected. Many websites have pollen counts that people can check on a daily basis, from national ones to local weather sites. Knowing pollen counts can help people decide on daily activities or when to take medicine or not.

At the recent AAAAI conference, however, researchers reported that there are often discrepancies between the pollen counts of websites and what the AAAAI is finding. After studying a number of websites compared to the findings of 13 of the AAAAI’s NAB Stations (National Allergy Bureau), they saw that the numbers did usually not correspond. Because these researchers know the inner workings of the NAB stations and the credibility of it, they saw that the other sites may not have verified or current information. For instance, one of the researchers reported that the predicted counts may be based on data from other years and more general forecasts. A lot needs to go in a pollen count to make it reputable.

Pollen has a number of factors regarding how it hits us, including the previous winter weather patterns, climate changes and current weather which all differ year to year. It also seems that the pollen seasons are lasting longer each year. In fact, according to an article in Medical News Today, the 2011 allergy season may be up to 27 days longer than the typical spring allergy season in North America. That is almost a month longer of suffering from pollen allergy symptoms.

Rain is a big factor regarding pollen, and though a wet season brings forth beautiful plants, flowers and trees, and can actually hold off the pollen, when the pollen does strike, it’s usually worse due to more flowers. Though the rain can delay it, the heavy amounts this year have made the pollen counts climb high in many areas of the country.

Rain can also wash the pollen away and the wet, heavy pollen doesn’t assault people like the light, dry pollen can. However, once again, it’s a double edged sword because once the rains stops, the pollen can still be around. The rain only provides short reprieves and can even wash pollen from other areas to sufferers, giving them something new to sneeze about.

Though the most common allergy symptoms are sneezing, itchy eyes and throats, and runny noses, people need to focus on what their personal symptoms are and treat those accordingly. For instance, if your eyes are hit hardest, treat with eye drops and not a general allergy medication as those can actually dry the eyes which makes symptoms worse. It is important to treat symptoms as all of the extra mucous in the body can cause secondary problems, like ear and sinus infections.

Pollen seems to be nobody’s friend and it is a tricky enemy. If you are someone who does look at pollen counts every day, make sure your information is coming from a reliable source, like the AAAAI or local weather stations. Treat accordingly and though we all like those rainy days that wash the pollen away, remember, at least for a few more weeks, it will be back.


American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI)

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