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The Difference Between Air Pollution and Pollen Counts

Ziv Lautman
Pollen vs Air Pollution Health Impact

Both pollen and air pollution impact our health, but do your customers really understand what the difference is between them, and how they can interact to cause longer term health problems?

Which is more abundant? Which is worse for your health? From which do your customers suffer more?

The answer to these questions is not maybe as obvious as you or your customers might think, and actually many people don't really know the answer.

Pollen vs. Air Pollution - Are they different?

As a company who is sincerely dedicated to helping people around the world breath easier and live healthier lives, by providing access to air quality data via APIs integrated into products users already interact with on a daily basis (think air purifiers, cars, face creams, wearables, etc.), we think it's time to spend a little time discussing the difference, so that you, an air purifier company, a digital health company, a lifestyle-oriented company, a city becoming a smart city, can give your customers (and citizens) the best chance yet for better health.

It isn't news that there is pollution in the air, and during spring, summer and / or early fall, pollen counts increase dramatically, unleashing unpleasant allergic reactions among allergy sufferers worldwide. Allergic rhinitis is increasingly common, estimating that some 50 million people in the US are affected by nasal allergies.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis are usually caused by allergic sensitivity to pollen from trees, grasses or weeds, or to airborne mold spores. Knowing the pollen counts where you are can be helpful, but it is far from the whole story.

In this blog post we will outline why knowing the pollen concentrations is important, but why that alone is not enough. Only by knowing the ambient outdoor air pollution levels as well can you help your customers protect their health to the fullest and live the healthiest life possible.

The Health Effects of Pollen

How does pollen, a fine powder of micro-spores that allows for plants to reproduce, affect us as humans? A vast number of people around the world suffer from allergic rhinitis, and it is becoming more common. In other words, people are allergic to these spores that are in the air! There are different kinds of pollen, and people can be allergic to some or all of them. Usually pollen types are broken down into categories of grasses, trees, weeds, and "other". If someone who is only allergic to grass pollen is in an area with high levels of tree pollen, their symptoms won't be triggered. However, if someone allergic to pollen from weeds is in an area with a high weed pollen count, they are in for an uncomfortable set of symptoms, including itchy eyes, sneezing, headache, runny nose and more.

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The Health Effects of Air Pollution

Air pollution can affect our health in some of the same ways as pollen, but actually a lot of the effects are less noticeable in the short term, making it a harder problem to fight without proper knowledge, data and education. There are many different pollutants in the air and each has its own affect on our bodies, in the long and short term. For example, it can burn our eyes and throats, cause respiratory irritation or breathing difficulties as well as cause headaches. However, and more worrisome, are the long term effects that are not immediately obvious. Air pollution enters ours lungs and some of the particles are small enough to cross into the bloodstream, allowing the opportunity for the chemicals and particles to infiltrate other organs systems, beyond our respiratory and cardiovascular systems - lungs and heart.

Air pollution affects people differently, depending on their age and level of health. For example, children and the elderly, as well as pregnant women and people with preexisting respiratory or cardiovascular diseases are more susceptible to the negative effects of air pollution. Someone with asthma can have an attack triggered by breathing polluted air, and since the pollution can damage lung cells, people can experience reduced lung function and increased breathing difficulties. Depending on the level of air pollution, people are affected differently, but one thing is certain: it is better for our health in the long and short term to reduce the exposure to air pollution of all kinds.

Pollen and Air Pollution: the Interaction

Pollen and Air Pollution don't just exist side by side, rather they can also interact with one another. As the Swiss Allergy Centre notes, there is interaction between airborne particulates and pollen [that] has been demonstrated in recent laboratory studies: pollen from polluted areas are covered with pollutant particles and their allergen content is altered, which may intensify their effect. Researchers from the Technical University of Munich have proved in experiments that pollen grains and other protein-containing particles in the air are altered by nitrogen oxides and ozone (nitration) in such a way that they are able to cause allergies more easily. Nitrogen oxides and ozone are components of the ... smog caused by traffic.

This is to say that particles of air pollution can make the pollen cause allergies more easily, so people who suffer from pollen allergies can experience worsened symptoms in areas with higher concentrations of ozone and nitrogen dioxides.

It is also important to note that air pollution is contributing to global climate change, which in turn is lengthening and intensifying allergy seasons.

Reducing Negative Health Effects

Many industries are connected directly and indirectly to air pollution, and businesses can contribute to the mitigation of serious health consequences by helping to show their consumers what is in the air they breathe, in addition to providing actionable advice and solutions.

For example if pollution and/or pollen levels are high, simply staying indoors and closing the windows can significantly reduce exposure to the particles and chemicals that can cause harm to health. Using an air purifier can further improve the indoor air quality, which is highly correlated to outdoor levels of air pollution. That is to say, if the air quality is bad outside, then it can be highly advantageous to also turn on the air purifier to clean the air inside. Air purifiers filter the air we breathe and help create healthier indoor environments for people around the world. The WHO reports that Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, which is the say that indoor air quality, highly correlated with outdoor air quality, is very important to our health.Additional means of protection include using an anti-pollution scarf when it's necessary to go outside.

When digital health companies integrate air quality data into their products and technologies, they are able to help their patients know what is in the air they breathe and help them avoid pollen and pollutants that can trigger an asthma or allergy attack, or a breathing crisis in patients with COPD.

There are various ways to cope with allergies, including staying inside and avoiding triggering types of pollen. Alternatively, or additionally, there are various forms of allergy medications.

Monitoring Air Pollution and Pollen count, for Better Health

Perhaps for now, one of the best ways to stay healthy is to be aware of what is in the air your customers breathe, while they are home, exercising outside, going to work, playing at school, running errands, etc., so they can make smarter decisions for their health.

While some people might think that pollen is the main issue, and not air pollution, likely because people with allergies to pollen feel the effects in the short term, whereas the negative health effects brought on by air pollution tend to be more pronounced only in the long term.

pollen from polluted areas are covered with pollutant particles and their allergen content is altered, which may intensify their ereally, pollen is more of a seasonal issues, but the symptoms are exacerbated by air pollution.

While not everyone has allergies, everyone is affected by air pollution.

check air pollution map

Read more about BreezoMeter's Pollen API.

Integrating a pollen API might be right for you, and hopefully you now understand how imperative air quality data is as well. Download this guide "Mapping Allergies and 

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Ziv, an environmental engineer, is Co-founder and CMO at BreezoMeter. He is based in San Francisco.

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