DOCTORAL student Seneca Naidoo - studying air quality and health impacts at the CSIR. Picture: supplied
Pretoria - Hay fever sufferers in Pretoria have been battling with runny noses and watery eyes as tree pollen levels surged to a daily average of 70 grains a cubic metre this spring.

For the first time in more than 20 years, pollen is being monitored in the Jacaranda City again.

Professor Jonny Peter, head of the University of Cape Town Lung Institute’s Allergy Unit, said the monitoring of pollen in the region had always been sporadic due to a lack of funds.

However, now residents would be able to access up-to-date pollen counts via www.pollencount.co.za - the official pollen-monitoring website for South Africa.

While there were numerous websites and apps that supposedly forecast pollen and fungal spores for the country, these counts were inaccurate and often extrapolated from overseas data that had no bearing on SA. “Knowing the pollen count will help hay fever sufferers to manage their symptoms better. When the count is high, they need to increase their dosage of allergy medication as per their doctor’s recommendation and avoid going outdoors.”

High levels of birch, mulberry, plane, oak and olive tree pollen have been recorded for Pretoria to date.

There are two annual pollen peaks in Pretoria - the first is in early spring, which is dominated by tree pollen, and the second in mid-summer, when grass pollen proliferates.

Peter said that given the rise in pollen production globally - largely as a result of rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels - it had become crucial for local scientists to keep a closer eye on pollen as seasons worsen.

“Experts predict that pollen counts will quadruple in the next 20 to 30 years, making life unbearable for those with pollen sensitivities, and people who don’t normally suffer from hay fever may likely start to.

“Asthma attacks may also increase.

“Pretoria, which is on the boundary of the grassland and savanna biome, already comprises dense, tall grass fields and trees, and with the threat of other allergic plants, such as ragweed (typically found in Europe) migrating southward, we could see a significant increase in pollen levels.

“However, without sustainable monitoring in place, there’s no way of knowing what airborne allergens are in circulation.

“Monitoring pollen on a more regular basis will help scientists to better understand the impact of global warming on pollen seasons in South Africa and how pollen is evolving, in order to develop more effective treatments for local conditions,” Peter said.

Pretoria News