This year's spring pollen season is tipped to be the worst for years with recent winter rain causing allergy-inducing plants to flourish, according to a leading Northern Sydney immunologist.

And climate change could cause increased suffering for allergy patients in the future because of an increase in volatile weather patterns, Professor Suran Fernando said.

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​Factors such as increasing carbon dioxide and temperature may be causing earlier, increased and prolonged production of certain pollens such as ragweed and birch.

Prof Fernando, who heads the Department of Clinical Immunology and Allergy at Royal North Shore Hospital, said overseas studies had shown a link between climate change and increased pollen allergy, and he expects the first Australian studies to show the same link.

"While those studies have been carried out overseas, there are Australian studies pending and I expect them to come up with similar results," he said.

"We are already very familiar with what's known as thunderstorm asthma because when there is a thunderstorm certain hospital emergency departments are flooded with asthma sufferers.

"This is because thunderstorms cause pollen to break up into even smaller particles which then enter the tiniest of airways – airways which are ordinarily too small to be penetrated by pollen."

He urged pollen allergy sufferers to:

  • become familiar with online pollen predictors (eg www.sydneypollen.com.au), and use them

  • try to stay indoors and keep the windows closed in windy weather, after thunderstorms and on high pollen count days

  • avoid grass and mowing lawns

  • shower and put on clean clothes after being outdoors for an extended period when pollen is high

Prof Fernando said seasonal hayfever and asthma sufferers concerned about managing their symptoms, or who have experienced an increase in symptoms, should see their doctor.

In addition to reducing exposure to pollen where possible, treatment options include:

  • non-sedating antihistamines

  • preventative therapy with inhaled corticosteroids, and

  • in severe cases, referral to an allergist for allergy testing and consideration of an allergen desensitisation program.

"These conditions do cause distressing symptoms and, in the case of asthma, can be life-threatening," Prof Fernando said.

"Therefore it is very important for patients to be in control of their hayfever and asthma and ensure that they are getting the best treatment."

 

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