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BellaOnline's Allergies and Colds Editor

Interpreting pollen counts

Pollen counts tell you which trees, weeds or grasses are wrecking havoc with your allergies. The numbers that are reported daily on radio and television, and in the newspaper during the allergy season tell you how much pollen is in the air. But they won’t do you much good unless you know how to interpret them.

A pollen count is the average number of pollen grains collected during a specific time period. Pollen is counted because it’s the main culprit for seasonal allergies.

What exactly does it mean when the pollen count report indicates cottonwood is 140 or juniper is 8? It means you’d better prepare for some serious allergy symptoms if you are allergic to cottonwood and not be too concerned about juniper.

A general rule of thumb is the higher the number, the more allergy symptoms you will suffer. Not all agencies keeping track of pollen use the same numbers. Fortunately, they know most people don’t know what the numbers mean and include the terms “low,” “moderate,” “high” or “extreme” to describe pollen numbers.

Tree pollen, a problem from April-May, is considered to be in the low range at 1-14 while 15-89 is moderate and 90-1499 ranks in the high zone, according to the scale used by the National Allergy Bureau (NAB). Above 1500 is extreme. The NAB provides pollen count reports from 69 counting stations across the U.S. at the following website: http://www.aaaai.org/nab/. Check their website to see if there is a reporting station near where you live.

But what if your problem is grasses or weeds rather than trees? Grasses and weeds which flourish from late May to mid-July aren’t given the same number ranges. For grasses, low is 1-4, moderate 5-19, high 20-199, and extreme 200 and above. The weed ranges are slightly different with low being 1-9, moderate 10-49, high 50-499 and extreme 500 plus.

The numbers assigned to mold pollen counts are off the charts by comparison to trees, weeds and grasses. Low is 1-6,499; moderate 6,500-12,999; high 13,000-49,999; and extreme 50,000 and up. Molds are usually a problem during the summer months.

Pollen counts can be useful if you want to know what may be causing your allergy symptoms or are planning outdoor activities. They can be found on the weather page in most daily newspapers as well as on the websites of local television stations.

Some additional tips that may be helpful when monitoring pollen include:
•Mornings are the worst time of day for pollen with counts generally highest between 5-10 a.m.
•Warm, dry and breezy mornings produce some of the highest counts while rainy, cooler days have the lowest.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Sheree Welshimer. All rights reserved.
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