Climate and environment impact on grass pollen allergens: why this is important
Climate changes are lengthening the pollen allergy seasons resulting in increased intensity of allergen exposure world-wide.
Pollen allergy (hay fever) and other allergies, including mould, are increasing in prevalence and severity and will continue to be a concern as warmer weather brings more allergen sensitivity. The prevalence of pollen allergy appears to be increasing, and there are associated economic costs (loss of work or school productivity) which can be addressed with new treatments and environmental control measures.
Hay fever is a common and debilitating disease, affecting 3 million Australians. The prevalence of seasonal hay fever is higher in children and adolescents than in adults. There is a significant correlation between asthma and hay fever in school children.
The 2016 theme for World Allergy Week, an initiative of the World Allergy Organitation, is “Pollen Allergies - Adapting to a Changing Climate”.
Pollen allergy reduces quality of life by affecting the physical, psychological and social functioning. Signs and symptoms of pollen allergies include sneezing 5 to 10 times repeatedly, itchy and runny nose, very itchy, watery eyes, nasal congestion, shortness of breath and sinus pressure. There can also be fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depression, frustration, and lower energy levels. Symptoms of pollen allergy are associated with economic costs such as loss of work and school productivity.
An understanding that grass pollen allergens are different depending on climate and environment is coupled with a need for more effective tools for diagnosis, treatment, vaccine development and air monitoring. Associate Professor Janet Davies, AIFA grant recipient in 2015, is leading research at the Queensland University of Technology that distinguishes between pollen allergens from temperate and subtropical grasses. Understanding the variability in grass pollen seasons across Australia's vast regions and between years is an important element of her team's research.
Grass pollens are a major cause of hay fever and a trigger for allergic asthma. Associate Professor Davies advocates forecasting based on grass growing and flowering times and weather factors.
"Australia is one of the few developed countries without a national pollen monitoring program. While we are a nation with one of the highest hay fever burdens, little is known about the timing and levels of exposure to airborne grass pollen across Australian cities."
Associate Professor Davies leads the Australian Pollen Allergen Partnership that aims to provide up-to-date pollen information and forecasts to patients and doctors in major cities. The project is supported by AIFA with co-sponsorship from partners Asthma Australia and Stallergenes Australia.
"It is important to have this information available. Allergic diseases in Australia have a high economic burden, costing $7.8 billion ear year, including $1.2 billion in direct medical expenses."
D’Amato G, Holgate ST, Pawankar R, Ledford DK, Cecchi L et al. Meteorological conditions, climate change, new emerging factors, and asthma and related allergic disorders. A statement of the World Allergy Organization. WAO Journal 2015; 8(1): 25. (doi:10.1186/s40413-015-0073-0)
Content updated 5 April 2016