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Pollen forecast and pollen calendar - your hay fever early warning system

One of the challenges for people with hay fever is avoiding pollen. It’s invisible. Clouds of the pesky stuff can fill the air and the first you know about it is when you start sneezing. That’s why the pollen count, pollen forecast and pollen calendar are so useful. They’re your hay fever early warning system.

How to use the pollen forecast
Check the pollen forecast daily and be prepared before you go out the door. During pollen season you really want to know what’s in the air. Not only right where you are but also where you want to go. A pollen forecast shows you the pollen count for the day and helps you predict when your hay fever is likely to strike. So you can better plan your life.

How does the pollen count work?
The pollen count started in the 1950s when a doctor, William Frankland, wanted to help his allergy patients – he had hay fever too. The pollen count tells you how pollen-y the air is, or was over the most recent 24 hour measuring period.

We get the pollen count from the Met Office. It has traps on roofs all over the country. Every day from March to September someone collects the grains and counts them under a microscope. What a job!

What if I want to plan further ahead?
Then you’d probably check the pollen forecast for the next few days, for example the 3-day forecast in our app.

The plants usually causing hay fever trouble are the ones that distribute pollen by air rather than relying on bees and other insects. They release millions of grains a day. And these can travel hundreds of miles through the air. It’s little wonder hay fever symptoms are usually more severe in a hot spell or when it’s windy.

A pollen forecast aims to spot this coming. The 3-day pollen forecast in our app combines the pollen count with weather forecast data to predict the level of allergens that are about to be flying around.

What to do when the pollen forecast is high
Try to plan indoor activities if you can. Clearly that won’t always work. So if you do have to leave home on a day with high pollen counts you can try to reduce your exposure. Protect your eyes from pollen with sunglasses; preferably the wrap-around kind. Some people even like to wear a face mask or a more discrete nasal filter to stop the tiny grains invading and irritating their airways.

Keep the pollen forecast low in your home
Your home should be a sneeze-free haven. Here are a few tricks to help keep pollen from coming indoors.

  • Windows and doors should be kept closed whenever possible
  • Only air your rooms when the pollen count is low
  • Use your air filter regularly if you have one
  • Wash your hair before going to bed and leave your clothes outside your bedroom
  • Don't dry laundry outside. Use a tumble dryer or hang it up indoors instead

Why is pollen mainly counted between March and September?
That’s typically the pollen season and the Met Office’s official pollen counting period. Plants usually go around pollinating each other from early spring into autumn. This is how it works for the different pollen types:

  • Tree pollen – can start in January, peaks March to May
  • Grass pollen – early spring until late summer, peaks May to July
  • Weed pollen – June to September

Cold winters usually mean a later start; a warm wet spring can speed things up. And of course it depends where you are. Climate has a big influence on when pollination happens. So the further north you go the shorter the pollen season. Pollen counts are also lower in towns than in the countryside, and on the coast compared to inland.

There is a pattern to all this – although global warming could shake the pollen calendar up a bit. Warmer winters will most likely lengthen the season and climate change can potentially lead to higher pollen concentrations.

So why do I need a pollen calendar?
Good question. Our pollen calendar takes the long view. It uses past pollen count data collected over several years to show which plants are usually active during which months in the UK.

The pollen calendar covers the whole year because there can still be pollen in the air in winter even if the count isn’t happening.

Check our pollen calendar for the UK

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