Asthma sufferer with binoculars peaking out from behind plants and tall grasses with pollen floating all around

New Research May Aid in Future Grass Pollen Forecasts for Allergic Asthma Sufferers

Last updated: March 2021

Do you have grass pollen allergies? I sure do, and this past month has been pure misery for me. Most of my symptoms are more related to my eye and nasal allergies, but I've also noticed a slight decline in my (mostly mild) asthma control as well

What are grass pollen allergies?

Six out of every 10 people with asthma have an allergic type.1 And grass pollen is one of their most common allergens.2 The reason why grass pollen allergy is so common is because grass pollen is easily spread by the wind during late spring into early summer. Normally, my grass allergies have abated somewhat by this time, but we had a late spring in Colorado this year. On the other hand, during a recent 2-week visit to Texas, I felt better because their spring started super early this year. Go figure.

If you live in the northern half of the U.S., the most common grass pollens are:

  • Timothy
  • Kentucky Blue
  • Johnson
  • Rye
  • Fescue2

In the southern U.S., common grass pollens include Bermuda and Bahia.

Pollen forecasts

Pollen forecasts tend to be fairly general, but are usually broken down into 3 seasonal classes:

  • Tree pollen, most common in early to mid-spring
  • Grass pollen, most common in late spring and early summer
  • Weed pollen, most common in late summer and early fall

You can learn about pollen levels in your local area in a number of ways. First off, your local weather forecasts on the TV, radio or in the newspaper may include information on pollen counts. One place I've been getting information lately is from my weather app on my phone. The website also includes forecasts, as does the Weather channel on cable or their website. The National Allergy Bureau is another source for pollen forecasts. Unfortunately, none of these sources predict what specific types of grass pollen are in the air.

That is why it's hard for health experts to pinpoint why some people with grass allergy seem to suffer more than others on certain days. Could it be that one group is allergic to a type of grass pollen that another group is not? And if so, could understanding these specifics lead to better treatment in the future?

This is what researchers hope to explore in a study whose first year findings were recently published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.3

Details of the grass pollen allergy study

A scientific team from Bangor University in North Wales, UK started a 3-year project about a year ago to analyze airborne grass pollen.3 The first year's data from one allergy season is in and has been published.

The team has said that they wanted to get a clearer idea about:

  • Where pollen comes from
  • How it moves through the air
  • How different types of pollen can be linked to allergies and allergic asthma

To gather their data, they used high tech metabarcoding. To be honest, I'm not sure exactly what metabarcoding is. In their study, the team explains it as identifying "biodiversity through high-throughput analysis of taxonomic marker genes.3" Well, that clears things up, doesn't it!

Another source interprets it as identifying "any fragments of material caught in a sample of air, water or soil, by recognizing and matching its unique DNA 'barcode'.4"

Basically, what they seem to be looking at is how the levels of different species of grass peak at different times and at different locations throughout the allergy season.

Initial findings

Findings from this first year of data show that it's not just the overall grass pollen levels circulating in the air that matter. Those bad days for allergy might just be related to the release of pollen from specific grass species. How about you? Have you ever known the pollen count was high, but felt OK? Or, conversely, suffered tremendously on days when the reported pollen counts were relatively low? Me too!

So next the researchers will be looking to see if there are links between certain grass pollen types and those bad allergy days we all experience. They are developing maps of where certain species of allergenic grasses grow in the UK. They hope to use the data from this study to develop better pollen forecasts in the future for residents in the UK.

What this means for us in the U.S.

This study focuses on one small region in the world. I'm not sure if the species of grass there correlate at all with those mentioned earlier in this post that are the main allergen culprits here in the U.S. Still, the methods they're developing and refining for studying grass pollen should be useful anywhere.

Here's hoping similar research will emerge here in the U.S. and lead to better pollen forecasts for us too.

Register to be part of our community today!

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.

Community Poll

How often do you experience a shortage in your asthma medication?