Allergy sufferers can always keep an eye on what's happening thanks to the services provided by the Austrian Pollen Warning Service at the MedUni Vienna. The Pollen App has made this pollen information mobile and it can be customised to individual users. Now, the popular service is in its fourth generation and is more customisable than ever before. For information and a free download, visit www.pollenwarndienst.at.
The pollen release by early-flowering alder and hazel trees has so far been below average. Meantime, they've already passed their peak, the first ash trees are blossoming and the birch blossom is just around the corner. "If the spring weather remains stable, birch trees will start releasing their pollen over the next few days. The volume of pollen will be average, however," says Katharina Bastl from the Austrian Pollen Warning Service at the MedUni Vienna, offering an initial outlook on the situation. However, the symptoms experienced by allergy sufferers can be severe, especially if the pollen release happens in a sudden burst. Bastl explains: "If the season begins very suddenly, people feel it more acutely. If the pollen concentration builds slowly, the body is obviously able to adjust to the burden better."
Pollen App 4.0: daily pollen count in your area, personal countdown
The Austrian Pollen Warning Service at the MedUni Vienna has been helping allergy sufferers through the pollen season for almost four decades. The information is scientifically researched and presented in a way that is understandable, is always up to date, free of charge and is now even tailored to individual users' personal profiles. The Pollen App has made pollen warnings mobile. The over 140,000 App users are therefore quickly able to tell where and to what extent "their" allergy triggers are currently in the air. "A new feature of the App is the detailed blossoming periods and a countdown until the start of the season," says Uwe E. Berger, Head of the Pollen Warning Service. "There's information on the average daily count for the user's current location. The severity of symptoms that are currently being reported by App users is also displayed."
To use these personalised services, symptoms need to be entered regularly into the "pollen diary", which can be accessed either via the App or at www.pollentagebuch.at. Says Berger: "The more accurately and more regularly the symptom data is entered, the more accurately the personal forecast can be calculated."
Escaping the pollen forms the basis of treatment
The treatment concept for a pollen allergy sounds easy and, in fact, it is: "Avoiding allergy triggers and teaching the immune system that they're harmless anyway. If the two happen consistently and early on, symptoms can be tolerated very quickly or even disappear altogether," says Reinhart Jarisch from the Floridsdorf Allergy Centre, summing up the situation. With the Pollen Warning Service, contact with pollen can be reduced to a tolerable minimum. "Information services such as the Austrian Pollen Warning Service or the IGAV information platform are extremely useful for allergy suffers, but also for us as clinicians, since they create an understanding of allergic conditions and stop patients coming to their doctors with the wrong information.“
A shot in the arm for specific immunotherapy
Specific immunotherapy (SIT, also known as allergy vaccinations or desensitisation therapy) works in a similar way to a vaccine - with one key difference: it can help sufferers who already have the condition it is designed to treat. Jarisch explains how: "The allergen causing the problem is delivered over the course of around three years in the form of injections, drops or tablets. As the dose is slowly increased, the body becomes accustomed to it and the immune system learns to tolerate the allergy trigger again." For pollen allergies, the success rate is around 80 per cent on average.
Stopping asthma in its tracks ...
A SIT can also prevent the development of other allergies and the progression of symptoms from the upper airways into the lungs, and therefore prevent asthma. "Around a quarter of all patients with untreated hay fever develop bronchial asthma over time. Asthma can be very well controlled, but it cannot be cured," explains lung specialist Felix Wantke, clinical lead at the Floridsdorf Allergy Centre.
... and improving quality of life
Alongside the impacts on health, the everyday lives of sufferers are also put under considerable strain. Wantke is well aware of how big the problem can be: "Sleep quality suffers - and with it the individual's performance at work or school. But a reduced sense of taste or smell, frequent inflammations of the sinuses, snoring and even halitosis caused by increased mouth breathing can be triggered by allergies too." Activities that are a matter of course for healthy people become a major struggle for people with allergic rhinitis. Some people find it hard to climb stairs quickly, for example, and they are restricted in the amount of gardening or housework they can do. The swollen, red eyes make many allergy sufferers feel unattractive, making them stay at home more often, putting them in a bad mood and they are generally less happy.
Wantke has a request: "At the first signs of a suspected allergy, patients should see a doctor trained in allergy treatment and have their symptoms investigated!" Modern diagnostic tools allow the allergy triggers to be tracked down quickly. Effective treatment with specific immunotherapy can protect against unpleasant symptoms and the far-reaching consequences of allergic illnesses.