Hay fever study interrogates prime suspect: pollen

November 2, 2007

A new online tool indicating pollen risk will allow people who suffer from hay fever and asthma to be more informed about air-borne organic irritants this spring. It’s part of a larger project designed to help those for whom warmer weather heralds the onset of hacking and wheezing.

Researchers from The Australian National University and the University of Tasmania have set out on a 12-month study to record pollen levels in Canberra and Hobart. The parallel projects will also monitor the number of people in both cities seeking medical treatment for respiratory conditions such as hay fever, and then test for links back to the amount of floating pollen. This information will be posted online over the course of the study as a weekly pollen risk meter, giving ratings from low to very high.

“Canberra is said to be one of the highest hay fever areas in the country, and there’s always been an anecdotal link between the high levels of pollen and respiratory problems – yet there’ve been very few studies that have tried to prove it,” said project leader Dr Simon Haberle, a palaeoecologist at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at ANU.

“Our results indicate that there was a relatively high pollen risk in Canberra this week, and we’ve heard a lot of anecdotal reports of hay fever being on the rise. In Hobart, by comparison, the pollen risk has remained comparatively lower. It will be interesting to see how the two cities compare on incidence of hay fever.”

Dr Haberle and his collaborators in Canberra are using a machine that sucks pollen out of the air. His colleagues at the University of Tasmania – including Dr Fay Johnston from the Menzies Research Institute – are using the same technique, before sending the sample to ANU for analysis by Dr Haberle. Taking samples from two comparable southern Australian cities will allow for a more rigorous experiment. The researchers have previously collaborated on a similar project in Darwin between 2004 and 2006, which suggested there was a strong correlation between high pollen levels and increased incidence of respiratory complaints.

Apart from the possible benefits for health, the researchers are interested in exploring the relationship between rates of atmospheric pollen and climate change. Dr Haberle, who has spent years studying organic material like pollen to understand more about the ancient past, said the same kinds of analysis can reveal much about the current state of the planet, as well as indicating future developments. But the results could also highlight change on a city level. “The last major study of pollen count in Canberra was done in the late 1950s,” Dr Haberle said. “It will be interesting to see how urban planting decisions have changed levels of atmospheric pollen.”

Canberra and Hobart pollen risk meters: palaeoworks.anu.edu.au/aerobiology.html

Source: Australian National University

Explore further: Grass pollen allergy research tackles hay fever

Related Stories

State of residency can increase children's risk of hay fever

November 8, 2013

If you think your child's stuffy nose is due to an autumn cold, you might want to consider allergies, especially if you live in the southern region of the United States. A study being presented this week at the Annual Scientific ...

Spring is here, but so are allergies

March 21, 2014

Spring has finally arrived in Cincinnati, but soon to follow will be the coughing, sneezing and wheezing that comes with allergies, hay fever and asthma—three warm weather killjoys most could do without.

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Cow embryos reveal new type of chromosome chimera

May 27, 2016

I've often wondered what happens between the time an egg is fertilized and the time the ball of cells that it becomes nestles into the uterine lining. It's a period that we know very little about, a black box of developmental ...

Shaving time to test antidotes for nerve agents

February 29, 2016

Imagine you wanted to know how much energy it took to bike up a mountain, but couldn't finish the ride to the peak yourself. So, to get the total energy required, you and a team of friends strap energy meters to your bikes ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.