May 03, 2013

How is a Pollen Forecast Made?

Pollen Trap from Burkard
Unlike weather forecasting which utilizes high technology, satellites, complex computer models, etc, pollen forecasting (to help people suffering from allergies) seems downright archaic, though just can be just as complex and unpredictable.

So, here's what happens...

The main "equipment" to enable pollen forecasting is a simple air trap in order to capture and ultimately count what pollen is currently circulating in the environment. This equipment known as a "Volumetric Spore Trap" is placed in an open area and sucks in a specific volume of air through a narrow slit. Within the spore trap is a rotating drum covered with sticky tape upon which pollen gets stuck on.

Spore Trap. Image from Burkard
Every morning, an aerobiologist removes the sticky tape and places it on a glass slide to look at it under 400x magnification.

Pollen spores are identified and counted by the aerobiologist.

Based on this pollen count information in combination with the weather forecast, precipitation, wind direction, etc a pollen forecast can be provided for a region.

However, a pollen forecast may not accurately reflect local conditions. For example, grass counts may be very elevated all year round where timothy grass is present as feed for horses whereas regional pollen forecast may show elevated grass pollen only during the summer.

More obviously, mold spores would be elevated inside a damp old home all year round that is not reflected in a regional pollen forecast.

In any case, allergies can be treated with medications.

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Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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