Extreme drought in Western Cape could worsen hayfever symptoms

The ongoing drought in the Western Cape could have dire implications for nasal allergy sufferers as we head into the sneezing and streaming season.

Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics – one of SA’s leading providers of antihistamine medication – says that while pollen levels decrease in times of drought, rainfall days are fewer too, which means there is less relief for those with a sensitivity to pollen.

“Rainfall generally washes pollen and fungal spores from the air, which occurs less often in drought years.

“During a normal spring season grass levels tend to rise slowly as they do when rain interrupts pollen release. Sensitised individuals then have a slower exposure to pollen (tree and grass) levels. When no or little rain falls, the exposure to significant pollen counts is sudden, which may exacerbate seasonal pollen symptoms.

“Contributing to the issue, is the extended summers brought on by global warming, which means that pollen-producing plants, such as flowers, trees, grasses and weeds have a much longer pollen-producing season than in the past,” she points out.

To help combat the effects of more severe hayfever seasons that are likely to be the norm going forward, Pharma Dynamics has partnered with pollen sampling experts from UCT’s Allergy and Immunology Clinic to provide hayfever sufferers in the Western Cape with regular pollen counts. This will arm patients and healthcare providers with vital information to help them manage symptoms more effectively.

Jennings notes that with alterations in seasonal patterns, such as drought contributing to hayfever, it is important to monitor the release of pollen into the atmosphere so that treatment can be adjusted accordingly.

“This specialised process sees pollen spore traps positioned on rooftops to catch the air spora onto a specially prepared sticky strip that moves through one revolution in seven days. The pollen and fungal spore counts are reported per cubic metre of air to produce a ‘pollen count’, which indicates the pollen levels and peak flowering times for the major aeroallergens.

“Access to pollen data can assist diagnosed patients to avoid outdoor activities when counts are high and can prompt them to increase their dose of preventative therapies, such as antihistamines, if necessary and following the advice from a doctor, during pollen peaks,” she explains.

Based on a recent survey conducted by Pharma Dynamics, a whopping 42% of the 2 650 hayfever sufferers that were polled don’t have a battle plan in place to control seasonal symptoms, while 48% of those that have been prescribed an allergy medication only take it when they feel they need to.

Jennings says non-adherence plays a big role in rendering medications (of all kind) ineffective. Some patients may be resistant to using their prescribed or over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medication on a regular basis, while others try a medication for two to three days, get no relief, and stop usage even though it may take up to two weeks to reduce symptoms. Then there are also those that stop using their medication when symptoms abate, only to become symptomatic again.

“Taking medicine improperly could also decrease the efficacy of a treatment. Very few people know how to properly use a nasal spray or inhaler, which have to be activated and used properly. Little things like the direction of the spray is critically important.

“Another mistake people make with their allergy medicine is simply forgetting to take it, but hopefully regular reminders of pollen counts will assist in this regard,” she says.

Another way to alleviate symptoms is to avoid exposure to the allergen. Jennings recommends that you stay indoors when pollen counts are high and rather use an aircon inside the office, home or car for ventilation than opening the windows during peak times.

Pharma Dynamics’ survey further found that 32% of surveyed sufferers won’t be able to work at some point during the spring and are likely to stay away from work as a result of nasal allergy congestion or other hayfever related symptoms such as headaches, puffy and irritated eyes or general fatigue often associated with the seasonal condition. About 42% said they typically take two days sick leave, while 31% cited three to four days and 28% generally put in five or more days to recover.

“Pollen is a trigger for an estimated 30% of South Africans and can in severe cases, trigger a fatal attack. Uncontrolled hayfever or allergic rhinitis will adversely affect asthma making chest symptoms more difficult to control. Allergies don’t cut you any slack, so stick to your regimen till the worst of the season is over,” advises Jennings

For more info about hayfever and daily pollen counts in the Western Cape, go to or


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