BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 18 Jun '17

A hay fever map of Britain has been published to help sufferers avoid hotspots

A hay fever map of Britain, with the first ever guide to the location of plants in the UK that can trigger the allergy, has been produced to help sufferers cope – and warn them which ‘hotspots’ to avoid.

Academics at the University of Exeter’s Medical School have produced new, highly detailed maps of the UK containing the location of key plants and trees known to produce pollen that triggers allergies and asthma.

The maps, produced in collaboration with the Met Office, may help acute hay fever or asthma sufferers decide where to live, or which areas to avoid at peak times when pollen is released.

Plants and air pollution

The study records areas where plants which hay fever sufferers are most likely to be sensitive to are most prevalent, including grasses and trees and plants such as birch, alder, oak and nettle.

The plant maps, which include cities throughout the UK – with a detailed plan of London – will help medics further study the impact of air pollution on asthma.

Around 80% of people with asthma also have a pollen allergy and in the UK around 10% of the adult population is affected by asthma – one of the highest levels of doctor-diagnosed asthma in the world.

In 2001, 13% of people in the UK were diagnosed with hay fever by doctors.
Most people with hay fever are allergic to grass pollen, which is most common in late spring and early summer. Air pollution, for example from car exhaust fumes, is understood to exacerbate hospital admissions for asthma caused by allergies.

‘These maps are a step towards a species-level pollen forecast. Pollen can have a serious impact on the well-being of those with hay fever or asthma. By working towards a localised, species-level forecast, vulnerable people can better plan their activities and manage their condition. These new maps could also provide local authorities and healthcare practitioners with information to assist patients with pollen allergies. While these allergenic plant and tree maps do not provide a forecast of pollen levels, they do provide the most likely locations of grass and of tree species which are the source of most allergenic pollen.’

DR RACHEL MCINNES
Honorary research fellow at the University of Exeter European Centre for Environment and Human Health and a Senior Climate Impacts Scientist at the Met Office

Allergenic plants

The study examined the tree canopy and the distribution of grasses to allow people to locate areas where they could be particularly affected. The resulting maps show where the allergenic plants and trees are located around Great Britain.

The academics used sophisticated aerial mapping, as well as data from a variety of sources, to show the geographical distribution of the 12 key types of plant associated with hay fever and asthma brought on by allergies. In London, the prevalence of allergenic plants is broken down by neighbourhood.

The maps include the location of grasses, weeds and trees producing pollen known to trigger hay fever and asthma, including birch, alder, hazel, plane trees and oak, grass, nettles, mugwort and plantain.

They show a higher percentage of allergenic grass in the northern and western regions of great Britain. The eastern-central area of the UK has the lowest percentage of allergenic grass. The north-west and Western Scotland have the highest density of grass coverage.

Reducing hospital admissions

The detailed maps of the location of pollen, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, may make it possible to identify plants increasing the risk of higher hospital admissions for asthma.

Research by Dr Nicholas Osborne, an epidemiologist and toxicologist at the University of Exeter’s Medical School, said the maps will help doctors narrow down which pollens are most likely to trigger asthma attacks.

‘We hope that these maps will contribute to ongoing research that aims to better determine when plants pollenate, allowing us with time to provide better warning to allergy and asthma sufferers to enable them to better manage their disease.

‘In the future, more people will know what species they are allergic to.’

DR NICHOLAS OSBORNE
Epidemiologist and toxicologist,University of Exeter’s Medical School

The map of tree locations used data from a high-resolution National Tree Map produced by Bluesky International, which used high-resolution aerial photography and remote sensing, as well as information from the Forestry Commission.

Click here to view an album of the hay fever maps on Flickr.