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.

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

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