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What’s the pollen outlook this year?

The Met Office recently (Friday 22 March) launched this year’s Pollen Forecast which will run until mid-September.

One in five people in the UK suffer from hay fever, meaning spring can be the start of watering eyes, runny noses and keeping a keen eye on the pollen forecast, which is now available and provides a look at the pollen amounts and types in the air for the next five days.

This February was the warmest on record for England and Wales and winter too has followed this wet and warm pattern. This has an influence on the pollen season ahead.

Yolanda Clewlow is the Met Office’s Relationships Manager for Health and Air Quality, and the UK Pollen Forecast Manager. She said: “We’re constantly monitoring what’s in the atmosphere and what might be coming in terms of pollen in the air. We look at a very broad picture for the pollen outlook, including the weather in the previous year when pollen is formed on some plants to make a judgement on how heavy a season might be for pollen release. Rain, wind, temperature and sunshine all affect how much pollen will be produced and how much it will be dispersed.”

The Met Office works with the University of Worcester to monitor pollen levels. There are many factors at play when predicting levels, with much depending on how much pollen has formed on the plants and the weather at the time of release. Most people are allergic to grass pollen, which is generally released around mid-May to July.

Yolanda continued: “In terms of birch pollen, we are seeing the first grains in the atmosphere in the most southerly and easterly counties but overall, there’s currently generally low levels for tree pollen due to changeable conditions. We expect the season to be of mild to average severity depending on in-season weather.

“Grass pollen could start early, with some pollen airborne from late April. Average severity is most likely, but this will largely depend on the weather in April and early May. Warm sunshine and some rain is needed for good grass growth and pollen production. Dry conditions would inhibit growth.”

There are millions of hay fever sufferers across the UK. The Met Office pollen forecasts provide vital information to help reduce the impact pollen has on their health. 

Emma Rubach is the Head of Health Advice at Asthma + Lung UK. She said: “High pollen levels can be dangerous for people with lung conditions like asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), triggering symptoms such as breathlessness, coughing or wheezing. and could lead to hospitalisation or a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

“To protect themselves, we would advise people with hay fever to use their preventer inhaler every day as prescribed, if they have one, and always have their reliever inhaler with them, in case symptoms do arise.  

“If you’re allergic to pollen, using steroid nasal spray every day can also help, together with non-drowsy antihistamine tablets to help reduce the allergic reaction. It is also a good idea to check pollen and air pollution forecasts in their local area, so they can avoid going outdoors as much as possible on high pollen days.”    

The three types of pollen

The pollen season generally has three main pollen type phases:

  • Tree pollen – late March to mid-May
  • Grass pollen – mid-May to July (most people are allergic to grass pollen)
  • Weed pollen – end of June to September

“The first thing to do is to make sure you understand the type of pollen you’re allergic to and monitor the forecast,” said Yolanda.  

“That way, you know when the very high days of pollen are coming and you can take precautions to try and avoid the pollen. It’s not possible to avoid it altogether though so for some, it’s about taking that preventative medication and planning your day to try and avoid being out in the pollen at the peak times.”

Pets can also be affected by hay fever and in severe cases, vets can often prescribe medication to help furry friends through the summer.

Advice on dealing with hay fever is available as part of WeatherReady with the Met Office.

Pollen levels and climate change

With global temperatures increasing, the pollen season in the UK isn’t immune to the effects of a changing climate. Climate models suggest an increasing likelihood of warmer, wetter winters and hotter drier summers, which will influence the release of pollen into the atmosphere.

A study conducted by the University of Worcester looked at pollen trends in the UK over the last 26 years to better understand the relationship between these trends and meteorological factors. It examined a range of UK pollen sites, with a focus on the key pollen types: grass, birch and oak. 

Dr Beverley Adams-Groom, Senior Pollen Forecaster at the University of Worcester and lead author of the study, said: “Birch tree pollen is showing a trend for increasing severity, particularly in the Midlands region, but grass pollen is not showing an increase over time. Seasons for all pollen types are tending to start earlier and earlier but there is no evidence that season duration is changing. Where changes are occurring, these are largely related to the effects of global warming, with similar patterns seen from research in nearby countries.”

Get pollen alerts directly to your phone on the Met Office app, or visit the pollen forecast on the Met Office website.


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