Cape Town - If you have been wondering whether there has been something in the air that has been affecting your sinuses and allergies, it may well be the case.
Dr Dilys Berman of the UCT Lung Institute Allergy and Immunology Clinic spoke about why the city is experiencing high pollen count levels.
Berman has been identifying pollen and fungal spore in the ambient air since 1984. She has a doctoral degree in aerobiology and her special interest is regional differences in the airborne pollen and fungal spore aeroallergens in South Africa.
Berman said in an interview with CapeTalk that the city’s pollen count is currently very high.
When the pollen count is high, this means 90% of pollen allergy sufferers will experience symptoms. Very allergic patients and asthmatics are recommended to limit outdoor activities and keep indoors, away from wind exposure.
“We have special machines that we put up on rooftops to catch the pollen, and we have two at Red Cross Children’s Hospital at the moment, and they are measuring high grass counts, which is probably what’s triggering symptoms of allergy. Itchy eyes, sneezing, and runny nose are all symptoms,” Berman said.
She said the pollen could precipitate allergy symptoms that had been kept at bay.
“The best thing is to make sure people are in contact with whoever gives them their medication, and that they have non-sedating antihistamines that can be taken. It is more the symptoms of hayfever, rhinitis and/or itchy eyes than asthma,” Berman said.
“But asthmatics can actually have worse symptoms because they are often sensitive to more than one trigger.”
She said Cape Town tended to see higher pollen counts after a lot of rain, because “that encourages all the grasses to fly”.
Grasses refers to wild grasses flowering, and the clinic’s pollen-monitoring website explains that the most allergenic pollen in South Africa comes from the plants that are not indigenous but have been introduced.
Some of these grasses include rye grass, poa-annua, wild oat grass, bunny tail grass, thatching grass, and Bermuda grass. There are also trees such as oak, cypress, olive and elm that can produce allergenic pollen. Daisies, reeds and mold spores may cause allergies too.
Data shows that Cape Town has recorded an increase in tree pollen, as pine has shown a strong surge. Other flowering trees are birch, gum, yellowwood, cedar, acacia and plane.
Significant spikes for sedge grass and plantain were consistently present at the moment, Berman said. Moulds were generally low, but the allergenic fungal spore Alternaria was increasing earlier than usual (peaks in November) and significant Alternaria spikes had occurred.
“We’re sort of at the end of the tree season. And now we’re starting the grasses. They’ve been delayed a bit because of all the rain, but October is a very bad month. It’s when they peak.”