2 September 2019

Let the sneezing and wheezing begin as spring pollens arrive in Canberra

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Pollen monitoring for the Canberra Pollen app helps to correlate environmental conditions with hayfever and asthma outbreaks. Photo: Twitter.

It will come as no surprise to Canberrans sneezing, wheezing and itching their way through these first days of Spring, but hayfever rates in the national capital have once again been confirmed as head and shoulders above the rest of the country, just as the yearly pollen counts begin to rise.

On the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare’s findings for the last two seasons released in a web update, 29 per cent of ACT residents suffer from hayfever followed by Victorians, Tasmanians and South Australians. This figure appears to have increased by around 10 per cent in the last decade. The figures are defined by jurisdiction, meaning our nearest NSW neighbours are in a similar pickle.

The Canberra Pollen app research undertaken by Professor Simon Haberle from the ANU has previously revealed hotspots in Casey, Franklin and Reid to Canberra’s north, in Gilmore, Isabella Plains and Calwell in the Tuggeranong Valley, and Karabah and Jerrabomberra in Queanbeyan. Cypress pine and elm dominate our airborne pollen count during late winter, but pine and poplar pollen are about to appear, increasing the diversity of allergenic pollen over next few weeks.

ACT Health is well aware of the fact that asthma and hay fever are significant health problems in the ACT. While a solid third of the population have hay fever, around one in nine Canberrans also suffer from asthma, which can sometimes be fatal if untreated.

People with asthma have sensitive airways in their lungs that can react to triggers like spring pollen. This can cause a ‘flare-up’ of symptoms, making them seasonally more vulnerable.

Common symptoms of asthma include breathlessness, wheezing, tight feeling in the chest and continuing cough, although clinicians say that not everyone recognises an asthma attack, especially if it’s your first time.

ACT Health says that as spring approaches, Canberrans with these conditions should get a management plan in place and make use of the free AirRater Smartphone app. This keeps track of hay fever and asthma symptoms in one place, setting up ‘saved’ locations so you can quickly view what’s happening in areas you visit frequently and monitoring how your symptoms correlate with environmental conditions.

ACT Health says that people who have asthma should also ensure they carry their blue reliever puffer with them at all times to manage flare-ups of symptoms when they occur. It’s safe to use Ventolin four to six times per day or more if you have worsening asthma symptoms, in consultation with your GP.

If you need quick relief, you can safely use your inhaler as often as every 30-60 minutes for two to three hours without significant risk of harmful side effects, although if this happens, you should also be consulting your GP about using an asthma preventative.

Whether you’ve had asthma before or not, everyone should be aware of extraordinary circumstances such as those which can cause ‘thunderstorm asthma’ – a rare condition which led to the deaths of 10 people in Melbourne in 2016. This can lead to a potentially life-threatening scenario when certain environmental factors are triggered and research indicates that it may be happening in Canberra.

In such conditions, pollen is activated by the electrical charge from thunderstorm conditions and can cause more intense asthma or hay fever, according to Professor Haberle. Using information collected from the Canberra Pollen app, Professor Haberle has been able to track spikes in pollen and correlate them with asthma-related hospital admissions and thunderstorm activity.

If you are sensitive to Canberra’s pollens as a hay fever trigger, you can also visit the daily Canberra Pollen Count and Forecast Service here.

Are you sneezing and wheezing yet? What triggers your hayfever?

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