The School of BioSciences at the University of Melbourne offers a service that forecasts the level of pollen in the air. The forecast alerts those who suffer from hay fever and seasonal asthma of the likelihood of being exposed to high levels of grass pollen, enabling sufferers to take preventative measures in danger periods.
The service provides a daily pollen count and forecast of grass pollen levels in the air around Melbourne for the next 6 days. The count and forecast are updated daily at about 4pm and are offered free-of-charge during Melbourne's peak allergy period from October 1 to December 31 each year.
Members of the general public who suffer from the allergy conditions of hay fever and seasonal asthma benefit.
Up to 50% of the population have the potential to suffer from these conditions and 25% of the population suffer regularly.
Hay fever and seasonal asthma can cause severe respiratory distress in sufferers. Research in the School of Botany has identified grass pollens as the major contributor to allergies in the outdoor atmosphere of the city. Today, allergy is the "number one environmental disease", and is considered to be increasing in frequency.
If forewarned, hayfever and asthma sufferers can take preventative measures such as avoiding high pollen areas (e.g. gardens and the countryside) or by taking appropriate medication with them when venturing outside.
The School of Botany has the facilities to measure pollen levels in Melbourne. Daily measurements are taken and combined with the weather forecast to produce a grass pollen forecast. For the collection of pollen, air is sampled with a Burkard Volumetric Air Sampler located at the University of Melbourne. This collects the pollen grains (and of course other particles from the air) on a microscope slide coated with a special glue that remains sticky on hot days and when it's raining. The slide is removed from the sampler daily and stained so that 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/total number of all pollen types. For example, 30/105 means there were 30 grass pollen grains and 105 pollen grains of all types per cubic meter of air in the preceding 24-hr period.
For more than 20 years, scientists in the School of Botany have collated and analysed Melbourne's pollen. The School now provides this service through its collaboration with the Asthma Foundation of Victoria; a leading community-based organization committed to reducing the impact of asthma on the 550,000 Victorians who suffer from this condition.
The service is under the direction of Dr Ed Newbigin, an Associate Professor in the School of Botany.