Hay fever marathon: Sufferers endure longest pollen season for 20 years
High pollen season started a week early in late May this year
23:37 GMT, 15 August 2012
Hayfever hell: Pollen counts high for weeks longer than usual this year
Allergy sufferers have sneezed their way through the longest hay fever season in more than two decades.
Scientists say the grass allergy season lasted more than eight weeks – about three weeks longer than usual – thanks to topsy-turvy summer weather.
Pollen counts are usually high between the start of June and the middle of July.
But this year they rose earlier and stayed high for longer.
Around 15million Britons suffer hay fever, with four out of five sensitive to grass pollen.
Dr Catherine Pashley, who works in the infection, immunity and inflammation department of the University of Leicester, said the prolonged season had been ‘distressing’ for sufferers. The hay fever expert said scientists working in the Midlands measured the first day of ‘high count’ grass pollen on May 25 – a week earlier than the hay fever season would usually start.
The last time the season started this early was in 1991, when the first high count day was May 24.
Dr Pashley said the university’s work with the charity Midlands Asthma and Allergy Research Association provided pollen data for the region back to 1968.
She said: ‘Using this we can see that we have only had three years that it has been this early.’ The last ‘very high’ grass count this year was on July 22, she said.
The last time a very high count occurred this late in the season was on July 23, 1985.
Dr Pashley said: ‘People with hay fever have suffered over a prolonged period.’
She said the weather was to blame, explaining: ‘We had warm wet weather in late spring, which was conducive to grass growing and producing pollen.
‘When the flowers are mature in the early summer months, release and dispersal of pollen depends on dry weather, with the ideal for a high count being a warm day with a light wind.
‘Rainfall will usually result in a sharp decrease in airborne levels of grass pollen.
‘Our summer has been interspersed with lots of wet days and a few dry sunny days which has resulted in the season starting early, and continuing longer.’
A high pollen count – when more than 50 grains of pollen are found in every cubic metre of air – is likely to make hay fever symptoms worse.
According to the Met Office levels may be high this week as a result of changes in the weather.
A spokesman said: ‘This means that those who suffer from hay fever will need to keep an eye on the pollen count.’
Professor Jean Emberlin of Allergy UK warned that up to a quarter of hay fever sufferers could expect to be affected into the autumn.