Hay fever: Record amounts of pollen in the air

Hay fever: Record amounts of pollen in the air
Hay fever season started late this year, due to the cold Belgian weather. Credit: Belga

People suffering from allergies are in for a rough ride this summer, as the Belgian spring weather has resulted in exceptionally high levels of pollen in the air.

The pollen season already began in May this year, which is exceptionally early. It also means that the pollen season will last longer due to the early start.

"It has already been a particularly tough spring for people with allergies," biologist Nicolas Bruffaerts of the Sciensano National Health Institute told De Standaard.

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"Last Saturday, on 4 June, 433 pollen grains per square meter were measured in Brussels. That is a record, the daily pollen concentration has never been so high in the last forty years. People who are allergic can get symptoms from as little as 50 grains."

According to Bruffaerts, the pollen explosion is due to the sunny, dry weather at the beginning of May. "These are the ideal conditions for grass to grow. In the second half of May, it started to rain just in time, so that the plants have not dried out."

More serious complaints

Allergist Peter Hellings of UZ Leuven has noticed that patients with respiratory allergies have recently been impacted more severely. He believes it (partly) comes down to the face masks that people had to wear for the past two years.

"The pollen could not get into our nose then, so we were less bothered by it," he said.

One in three people today suffers from a respiratory allergy, said Hellings, but that number is expected to rise.

"We live in hygienic environments and are less exposed to viruses and bacteria. This makes us more likely to develop a respiratory allergy," he stressed.

How to relieve seasonal allergies

In addition to taking antihistamines to treat symptoms, nonprofit American academic medical centre Mayo Health Clinic recommends the following to nip hay fever in the bud:

Reduce your exposure to allergy triggers

  • Stay indoors on dry, windy days. The best time to go outside is after a good rain, which helps clear pollen from the air.
  • Avoid lawn mowing, weed pulling and other gardening chores that stir up allergens.
  • Remove clothes you have worn outside and shower to rinse pollen from your skin and hair.
  • Do not hang laundry outside — pollen can stick to sheets and towels.
  • Wear a face mask if you do outside chores.

Take extra steps when pollen counts are high

Seasonal allergy signs and symptoms can flare up when there is a lot of pollen in the air. These steps can help you reduce your exposure:

  • Check your local TV or radio station, your local newspaper, or the internet for pollen forecasts and current pollen levels.
  • If high pollen counts are forecasted, start taking allergy medications before your symptoms start.
  • Close doors and windows at night if possible or any other time when pollen counts are high.
  • Avoid outdoor activity in the early morning when pollen counts are highest.

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