Hay fever is an allergic reaction that is caused by pollen from trees, grasses and herbaceous plants. When this pollen is dispersed by the wind, people with hay fever suffer from sneezing, red and itchy eyes and a stuffy nose.
Between 800,000 and 1.5 million people in the Netherlands suffer from hay fever. However, their knowledge about this allergy is often limited. For example, they do not understand why allergy symptoms occur, which plants cause symptoms and when the symptoms occur. They often mistakenly assume that they have a cold, and therefore do not take the correct medication. Hay fever medication can greatly reduce the severity of allergic reactions.
Weather conditions determine when 'hay fever plants' flower and how much pollen they release into the atmosphere. Every year, the progression of hay fever symptoms can differ. The daily pollen concentration in the atmosphere in the Netherlands is measured by the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) and Elkerliek Hospital in Helmond. As part of the Nature’s Calendar observation programme, secondary school students and volunteers keep track of when various hay fever plants begin flowering. The students who conduct observations are also involved with the GLOBE Programme, an international education programme on the environmental sciences established in 1995 by Al Gore.
On the AllergieRadar.nl website, researchers from the LUMC and Wageningen University & Research provide daily insight into hay fever symptom intensity. The symptom intensity is based on experiences of hay fever patients who report their symptoms via the website or the AllergieRadar.nl app. The more people who report the progression of their symptoms to AllergieRadar.nl, the better the researchers can indicate when hay fever patients who are sensitive to certain types of pollen should take precautions. The Pollen Planner on Allergieradar.nl provides a daily report on which hay fever-causing plants are currently flowering and forecasts which ones are expected to flower soon, so patients can take timely measures.
One plant species that is known world-wide for causing hay fever symptoms is Ambrosia. This species, which is an exotic in the Netherlands, produces large amounts of strongly allergenic pollen. Moreover, the plant flowers late in the year, so the hay fever season for people who are sensitive to Ambrosia can be up to two months longer. Ambrosia originated from North America and has become widespread in the Netherlands because its seeds are unintentionally present in birdseed and wildflower mixtures. By removing plants before they begin flowering, nuisance from the pollen can be prevented, and the species is less likely to spread.
Wageningen University & Research has developed the free Ambrosia Alert app that helps people recognise, report and remove Ambrosia plants. The app (which is currently available only for Android) uses the Determinator identification system, which was developed by RIKILT and Wageningen Environmental Research, both part of Wageningen University & Research. Based on several questions about what the plant looks like, the app determines whether it is actually Ambrosia or a species that is very similar in appearance. The app also has instructions on how the plant should be removed and disposed of: in the dustbin, not with the kitchen and garden waste. For the iPhone or iPad, last year the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority developed an Ambrosia app, which can be downloaded from www.ambrosiavrij.nu.
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