ALLERGY specialists are bracing for an influx of patients with hay fever and asthma as spring and the pollen season begins.
Royal Melbourne Hospital allergy specialist Jo Douglass said hay fever could occur at any time of the year as a reaction to allergens such as dust mites, but was common in spring because it was often caused by an allergy to grass pollen.
''While spring heralds the beginning of warmer weather and more outdoor activities, for many people it foreshadows the start of hay fever season, when airborne pollens from grasses are at their peak,'' she said.
''The symptoms of hay fever can be as basic as sneezing, watery eyes, a runny or stuffy nose, itchy ears and nose and throat. But in some cases, the symptoms can be so severe that a person can't sleep or concentrate, and may feel tired or unwell.''
Professor Douglass said high grass pollen counts could also aggravate asthma, particularly when followed by a thunderstorm in a phenomenon known as ''thunderstorm asthma''.
A rapid rise in humidity, which often precedes a thunderstorm, can cause pollen grains to burst in the air, releasing tiny particles that can be inhaled into the lungs and cause asthma.
Staff from the University of Melbourne's School of Botany yesterday conducted pollen counts to produce daily forecasts that will be posted on the Asthma Foundation of Victoria's website until the end of the year.
Associate Professor Ed Newbigin said staff took air samples through a machine that collected pollen grains and other particles on a microscope slide.
Pollen counts are ranked on a scale from low to extremely high and are combined with the weather forecast to give the next day's pollen outlook.
''Knowing each day's grass pollen count can help ease suffering by warning people with grass pollen allergies to take precautions on days with high pollen count,'' Associate Professor Newbigin said.
Professor Douglass said avoiding hay fever triggers was the best way to reduce attacks but could be difficult with grass pollen.
She said people prone to hay fever or asthma should take precautions on high pollen days including using anti-histamines or corticosteroid nasal sprays or eye drops to reduce symptoms.