Many allergy sufferers rely on pollen counts to avoid the worst, but science may offer a better solution

Many allergy sufferers rely on pollen counts to avoid the worst, but science may offer a better solution

London — Spring is in the air, and so is misery for millions of seasonal allergy sufferers. Stopping to smell the flowers can lead to sneezing, watery eyes or worse for Londoner Alex Hill.

“It’s like stuffy nose, sinus headaches, like nosebleeds,” he told CBS News as he walked his dog Roxie through a park in the British capital.

But scientists in the U.K. say they’ve found a better way to measure exactly what makes people like Hill miserable, and they’re hoping it can lead to more useful advice than the currently available pollen counts.

Researchers at King’s College London and Imperial College London believe measuring and reporting the levels of airborne grass allergens, instead of the pollen particles that carry the tiny offenders, could be more beneficial for hay fever sufferers.

For years, hay fever sufferers have monitored peak pollen count times in a bid to help manage their symptoms. But authors of the study, published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, say measuring allergen levels gives a more accurate picture of the stuff that actually makes people’s eyes water and noses drip.

About one in four U.S. adults suffers from hay fever, and the researchers say grass pollen is the most common hay fever trigger. They measured the levels of grass allergen (Phl p 5) over a period of time and found spikes were more consistently associated with allergic respiratory symptoms than grass pollen counts. They hope their findings will lead to policy changes that can help people better prepare to tackle this tough time of year. 

“The pollen counts, they’re good, and they can be associated with health outcomes, but once you account for the allergen levels, it’s clear from the study that we did that it’s the allergen levels that count,” Dr. Elaine Fuertes of Imperial College London, who helped write the report, told CBS News.

Pollen carries the allergens that cause hay fever symptoms, and it can be released at different times and in different amounts.

“Knowing when the allergen levels themselves are going to be high can help people stay indoors when they need to, maybe take showers when they get home to rinse off some of the allergen they might have been exposed to,” said Fuertes.

In a lab at Imperial College London, Dr. Jennifer Canizales showed CBS News how researchers have been monitoring allergen levels on a small scale using special filters placed inside air samplers.

How climate change is impacting seasonal allergies


No country in the world currently tracks allergen levels, as it’s expensive and time consuming, but Fuertes said the researchers believe “that if you could incorporate regular monitoring of allergen levels, the forecasting would get better.”

She hopes their research will encourage governments and organizations around the world to start monitoring and reporting allergen levels — especially as scientists have predicted that as the Earth’s climate continues warming, the annual plight of allergy sufferers is likely to get worse.

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