How does pollen impact people with asthma?

Pollens from trees and grasses are a common trigger for people with asthma that can exacerbate their symptoms.

For many people in Australia with asthma or hay fever, August to March (or the dry season in tropical areas) is a difficult time.

At this time of year there is often an increased amount of pollen in the air, which may trigger an asthma flare-up or attack. That can make life pretty uncomfortable.

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.

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. This can lead to dramatic and serious asthma attacks in those who have not taken their asthma medications or may have undiagnosed asthma.

This phenomenon was originally shown to occur with rye grass 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.

Visit our Thunderstorm Asthma page to learn more.

How do I avoid reacting to pollen?

It is important to continue to take your preventer medication to reduce the likelihood of hay fever and asthma flare-ups and  minimise the impact of pollen on seasonal asthma and allergy.

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, 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.

For people with asthma, it’s important to maintain good air quality indoors, including when you’re driving your car. 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.

There are a number of pollen monitoring apps and websites that are a useful resource for people with asthma and hay fever over spring.

AusPollen: 

The AusPollen project monitors levels of airborne grass pollen across the ACT, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.

The AusPollen app provides allergy and asthma patients with accurate, relevant, localised information on pollen counts.

Visit their website or download the AusPollen mobile app relevant to your state/territory.

AirRater: 

AirRater is a free, award-winning smartphone app developed by the University of Tasmania. The app is designed to help people with asthma, hay fever or other lung conditions to better manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

AirRater provides easily accessible, real time and local information on pollen and allows you to track symptoms and identify which conditions affect your health. The app also sends alerts when the pollen is high or air quality is poor – helping you understand when you need to take action.

The app is freely available across Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory and can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play. For more information, visit www.airrater.org.

VicEmergency: 

VicEmergency is a centralised website for Victorians to find emergency information and warnings. The website has a real-time map display with incidents across the state including thunderstorm asthma warnings.

Visit the website or download the mobile app.

Find out more about apps to monitor your local pollen levels.

Tips for dealing with exposure to pollen

See your doctor to make sure your asthma is well controlled, and you are taking the right medications. This will reduce the chance that you will react to pollen. If you still have problems, the following tips may help:

  • Stay indoors whenever possible during the peak pollen season, on windy days and during thunderstorms
  • 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
  • Use recirculated air in the car when pollen levels are high