People with hay fever are regularly surprised by the erratic nature of the hay fever season. This year, less self-care hay fever medication was sold during January-March and May-July than in 2021. But in April, on the contrary, much more. Since this year, researchers with very different expertise have been working together to understand better the effects of climate change on hay fever dynamics. Three researchers from the University of Twente's Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation are involved.
This article is a summarized version of the full article that is available on naturetoday.nl.
Hay fever affects more than a quarter of the Dutch population. Hay fever symptoms have major consequences for daily functioning during work, study, leisure time, and care for family and others. With better allergy information and better hay fever expectations, the impact of hay fever on daily life can be greatly reduced.
In a ZonMw-funded research project, several researchers are joining forces to understand annual hay fever dynamics. The project determines under which (weather) conditions, where in the Netherlands, how much pollen is released into the air by plants, and how the pollen moves through the air. It also examines how different levels of pollen exposure affect the burden of disease, and therefore which trees are best to plant or not to plant. Finally, it discusses with people who suffer from hay fever how they currently manage their symptoms and what information they would like to have in order to reduce the nuisance.
Lots of numbers offer grip on hay fever
During the first months of this project, diverse data were brought together: decades of pollen counts from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany; information on where exactly allergenic tree species are located in municipalities; GP registrations and complaint scores of allergy patients; sales figures of allergy medication and meteorological data. By cleverly combining these data, new insights are already emerging. Initial analysis shows that the peaks in airborne pollen concentrations of the allergenic pollen types alder, birch and grass closely coincide with peaks in sales of self-care allergy medication dispensed by DA chemists in the Netherlands (see figure). These sales data can thus be used to analyse the disease burden of hay fever patients.
Which trees in the city?
Another focus within the study is urban green space. Due to climate change, cities will plant more trees. Important in this respect is that suitable tree species are chosen. Within the project, an inventory was started of the allergenicity of the most common tree species in the urban environment of the Netherlands. This will enable green space managers and municipalities to make responsible choices in the future to create a low-allergen urban environment.
This research involves collaboration between organizations from healthcare (Leiden University Medical Centre, Elkerliek Hospital, Service Pharmacy), universities (Wageningen University & Research, University of Twente), government agencies (RIVM, Rotterdam Municipal Health Service) and industry (Terra Nostra). More information is available on zonmw.nl. The full news article is available in Dutch on Naturetoday.nl. From the University of Twente's Faculty ITC Ellen-Wien Augustijn, Rosa Aguilar and Raul Zurita-Milla are involved.