Wed. Oct 23rd, 2019

Hay fever sufferers beware: Cape Town’s pollen at record high

Hay fever pollenThe heavy rains following the drought in Cape Town last year brought levels of hay fever-causing pollen to the city that haven’t been seen in 10 years.

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A study released in 2019 has revealed that pollen levels in Cape Town’s air are higher than they have been in a decade.

If you are one of the 30% of South Africa’s population that suffers from allergic rhinitis (AR), more commonly known as hay fever, and feel like your allergies have been getting worse in recent years, there could be a very legitimate reason behind it.

Hay fever-causing pollen hits decade high

Speaking to Cape Talk radio, Groote Schuur Hospital Allergy and Clinical Immunology head Professor Jonny Peter revealed that heavy rains following the drought in 2018 led to levels of pollen in the air that have not been seen in 10 years.

“Aeroallergens are the leading causes, or triggers, of AR and asthma. The problem, though, is we don’t really know what is in the air. We don’t really know what the pollen is doing,” he said.

“Climate change and the changing environment we are living in is actually a really big issue.

“To give you an example, last year, after the drought, we had those good winter rains. In September/October last year we had a 10-year high in the Cape.

“Both tree and grass pollen all coming at the same time. Which hasn’t happened in the preceding 10 to 15 years.”

Cape Town’s solo effort

According to Peter, Cape Town is the only city in South Africa that consistently measures pollen in the air.

This is a huge problem because air quality, and what is in the air, varies greatly from province to province and even from town to town.

“We really need to monitor regularly to know what is in the air, because it is not the same as last year. We don’t know what it is going to be,” he explained.

“At the moment, the only website that we know of that is accurate in the Cape is our own monitoring site that we have kept going. All the other sites largely rely on predictions from previous years, so they are actually mostly wrong.

“Cape Town has managed to keep pollen monitoring going for 20 years now. But that is a single site and essentially we know that in other areas of the country the pollen is completely different.

“It has been monitored sporadically in previous years, but for long periods of time now, there is no data. We don’t know what the pollen counts are in Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Durban, there’s no information about that.”

Struggle for funding

It is no secret that South Africa is a country with a lot of problems and this can make it quite difficult to gain funding to measure air quality.

However, Peter stressed the importance of this kind of monitoring because it is a problem that is steadily becoming worse in the country.

“It is a competitive funding environment looking for support. But one of the things is, in the recent global burden of disease reports, one of the things where South Africa is unique is an increasing burden of non-communicable disease,” he said.

“These include cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. So asthma and AR are actually on the increase in South Africa. This is becoming an increasing problem and trying to get ahead of it is important.”

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