Ah, the sounds of spring:
Birds chirping, afternoon rainstorms, flies buzzing… and lots of sneezing.
With the warmer temperatures, many plants are wasting no time emerging from their winter slumber. As a result, there’s no shortage of red, itchy eyes and drippy noses.
Although not technically a form of air pollution, airborne allergens are a significant source of discomfort and lost productivity. An estimated 4 million workdays are lost each year in the U.S. because of hay fever, at a cost of more than $700 million.
From now until late October, Mesa County Health Department will conduct twice weekly pollen samples. Typically, samples are collected on Sundays and Wednesdays, with the results becoming available the next afternoon. These reports are used by affected individuals and local physicians to help alleviate symptoms.
There are three ways to be notified of the most recent numbers: Call our pre-recorded hotline at (970) 248-6990, visit us online or by send me a note to be added to the email distribution list. We’ve added new content to our website, including more detailed tables and graphs depicting historical trends.
Sampling for pollen is a pretty low-tech endeavor. Pollen is captured using a greased, spinning rod. It is then examined under a microscope. Individual grains are identified and counted by hand. After some quick calculations, a final number of grains per cubic meter can be determined. Sampling takes place on the roof of the Health Department building at 510 29 1/2 Road.
Although pollen levels may vary throughout the county, this location is representative of most local areas.
In a typical year, the first pollen on the scene is released by trees- elms, poplars and junipers being some of the biggest offenders. By early summer, grasses become the dominant type, followed quickly by many types of weeds in mid-summer and through autumn.
Within the last week, we have gone from almost no airborne pollen to well into the high category. Recent rains help as a temporary relief, but numbers are able to quickly rebound when the temperatures again start to climb.
To the joy of many hay fever sufferers, several over-the-counter medications have been developed. If you know which specific types of pollen you are allergic to, a series of allergy shots may also offer relief. As always, it’s best to seek the advice of a physician first.
In a future post, we’ll take a closer look at one of the biggest and earliest culprits – the dreaded Siberian Elm.
And if you happen to be affected by hay fever, you have my sympathies and commiseration. I don’t just sample the pollen, I also suffer from it.
Edward Brotsky is the Air Quality Specialist at the Mesa County Health Department. He spends his days gazing at the sky and getting paid for it.