Did you know? The Melbourne Pollen Count

November 10 / 48

Each year, staff at the School of Botany work with the Asthma Foundation of Victoria to count the grass pollen in the air and produce a forecast of the next day’s grass pollen level during Melbourne’s peak allergy period, 1 October to 31 December.

The service has been running for more than 20 years and is the only service of its type in Victoria. 

Associate Professor Ed Newbigin from the School of Botany is director of the service and explains that people who have hay fever (seasonal rhinitis) in late spring or early summer are typically allergic to grass pollen, especially that produced by exotic grasses such as perennial rye grass. 

"Knowing each day's grass pollen count can help ease suffering by warning people with grass pollen allergies to take precautions on days with high pollen counts," he said.

"This can mean staying indoors and not engaging in activities where people are likely to come into contact with grasses, such as gardening, as well as having whatever medications close at hand."

The Melbourne Pollen Count team are also participating in an NHMRC-funded study to determine the relationship between the daily grass pollen count and hospital admissions of children with poorly controlled asthma.  Grass pollen is a trigger for some asthmatics. Asthma attacks requiring hospitalisation peak during the grass pollen season.

To create the forecast, staff take daily pollen measurements and combine them with the weather forecast.

To collect pollen, air is sampled with a Burkard Volumetric Air Sampler. The machine collects the pollen grains (and other particles from the air) on a microscope slide coated with special glue which remains sticky on hot days and when it’s raining. The slide is removed from the sampler daily and stained so the pollen grains can be counted when viewed with a microscope.

The count and forecast are supplied to users of the service at the same time each day. The count is given as a qualitative assessment, on a scale from low to extremely high, and as actual values of the number of grass pollen grains per cubic meter of air and the total number of all pollen types.

Dr Newbigin says money raised through the Melbourne Pollen Count is used to provide travel scholarships to the school’s postgraduate students. 

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