How does pollen impact people with asthma?
Pollens from trees and grasses are a common trigger for people with asthma that can worsen or flare-up asthma and hay fever symptoms.
For many people in Australia with asthma or hay fever, August to March and with some grasses up to May, (or the dry season in tropical areas) is a challenging time.
At these times of the year, there is often an increased amount of pollen in the air, that can make life uncomfortable or lead to hospitalisation.
Problems with pollen are usually caused by grasses, weeds, and trees which are wind-pollinated. Australian native plants are usually less of an issue, although there are a few exceptions such as the Cypress Pine and Australian Oak.
Major thunderstorms during spring can make things even worse because the combination of pollen, moisture, and changes in air pressure leads to the bursting of pollen grains. This creates much smaller particles carrying the allergens that can be inhaled deep into the lungs. Pollen itself is too large to be inhaled into the lungs, but the burst pollen can lead to dramatic and serious asthma attacks in those who have not taken their asthma or hay fever medications or may have undiagnosed asthma and hay fever.
This occurrence of burst pollen was originally shown to occur with ryegrass pollen but is now thought to occur with other grass pollens and perhaps some tree pollens as well. There is also some evidence that these smaller particles from pollens may occur after rain and that the wet conditions associated with thunderstorms and rain also greatly increase the amounts of fungal spores in the air also known as Thunderstorm Asthma.
How do I know if grass and pollen affects me, and what do I do?
If you find you have symptoms of:
- Wheezing or other symptoms of asthma (cough, shortness of breath, and a tight chest) during spring and/or summer with no reason you can think of
- Runny, itchy, or blocked nose
- Irritable, itchy, watery, and red eyes
- Itchy ears, throat or the top part of the mouth called the pallet
Have a discussion with your doctor. Your doctor can help you to manage these symptoms or refer you for testing or to a specialist if needed.
How do I avoid reacting to pollen?
It is important to continue to take your preventer medication for asthma and hay fever medication, to reduce the likelihood of hay fever and asthma flare-ups and minimise the impact of pollen on seasonal asthma and allergy.
Other tips include:
- You should also carry your reliever medication with you at all times, even when you are feeling well
- Make sure your written Asthma Action Plan is up to date and you have read it and understood your doctors’ instructions, so you know what to do if your asthma starts to get worse
- Be aware of high pollen days
If you experience hay fever and/or pollen is a trigger for your asthma, it’s important to be aware of when high levels of pollen are present in the air. We encourage you to use daily pollen monitoring/pollen count apps and/or websites, such as the Pollen Forecast website.
Don’t forget on high pollen days to close your windows and doors. It’s easy for pollen outdoors to make its way inside. If you have an air conditioner, make sure it is turned to ‘recirculate’ so it doesn’t bring the outdoor pollens inside.
Pollen count monitoring
There are a number of pollen monitoring apps and websites such as AirRater and Auspollen that are a useful resource for people with asthma and hay fever over spring, however, there is not one provider that covers all states. This is something we are working towards as part of our AirSmart positioning.
You can view the pollen count for available states and territories here.
If you do not see your state or territory listed, it is likely there isn’t one available and therefore we ask you to be vigilant and prepared when it comes to your asthma and allergies.
Tips for dealing with exposure to grass and pollen
To reduce the chance of reacting to pollen, see your doctor to make sure your asthma is well controlled, take an Asthma Control Test, and ensure you are taking the right medications, with the right technique. If you still have problems, the following tips may help:
- Take your medications for asthma and hay-fever as prescribed
- Stay indoors whenever possible during the peak pollen season, on windy days and during thunderstorms
- Maintain good air quality indoors, including when you’re driving your car. Use recirculated air in the car when pollen levels are high
- Avoid activities that you know will increase your exposure to pollens that you are allergic to, such as mowing the grass
- Shower after outdoor activities when there are high levels of pollen
- Nasal irrigation (with a rinse bottle, spray, or other devices) can improve nasal symptoms by flushing out the irritants in your nose and help with clearing excess mucus.
See your doctor if symptoms persist.
This page was last updated 18/08/2020
Flo, White Magic and echamber are campaign partners of Asthma Australia and have not been involved in the development of this webpage