Q:

4/12/2013
As a health communication professional and an allergy/asthma sufferer myself, I do not feel the current pollen scale adequately represents the range possible for "very high." Although "very high" is anything greater than 1500 and every allergy sufferer knows it is bad when it reaches that point, there is a big difference between, say, 1501, and what we increasingly see where I live (yesterday: more than 8000). The difference between 1500 and 8000 for me is the difference between "limit outdoor activity" and "do not go outside without wearing a mask and carrying a rescue inhaler." Are there any plans to alter this scale to more adequately characterize alarmingly high pollen levels so that people can use the numbers to make better decisions about behavior and medication? With climate change increasing pollen levels, the upper end of "very high" may move well beyond 8000 in the not-too-distant future.

A:

Thank you for your inquiry.

I am going to refer your question to the head of the Aerobiology Committee of our Academy. When I receive a response, I will forward it to you.

Thank you again for your inquiry.

Sincerely,
Phil Lieberman, M.D.

We received a response from Dr. Warren Filley. As he suggested, you could contact one of our pollen stations in Georgia, the one nearest to you (assuming that you are living in Georgia) to possibly get further information regarding your inquiry. For your convenience, I have also copied below the contact information for each of our Georgia stations.

Thank you again for your inquiry and we hope this response is helpful to you.

Sincerely,
Phil Lieberman, M.D.

Response from Dr. Warren Filley:
We have 3 NAB stations in Georgia (Savannah, Atlanta, and Gainesville) and you should refer her to those sites for more local input. From our site in Oklahoma City, we use very different numbers for high, VH, medium, low depending upon the pollen or mold counted. For example: mold must be > 50,000 to be VH; grass only needs to be > 200; weeds are > 500 and trees are > 1,500. She must be referring to the trees currently. I do not know what limits the Georgia station use. They may have totally different numbers for the levels. When we set up the NAB back in the early 1990's there was great concern about using any number since they vary so much from site to site in the USA. As an example, I remember that for a high Ragweed count in Denver they never got much more than 50, and in Oklahoma, we get over 500 a lot of the time. Thus the reason to use high, VH, medium, etc., and not the exact numbers. Since we do not know (hers is antidotal evidence) how much worse 8,000 is over 1,500 for most people (granted -100 is colder by far than 0 but you need to cover yourself at 0 like you do for colder weather) the advice would be to take precautions anytime it is over the 1,500 or VH level. She would be well advised to check with the closest NAB site and see if they could work with her directly to give the exact numbers. Also, all counts are for the previous 24 hours with no assurance that the levels will continue to stay high, so her body has already reacted by the time the counts are released. She might try immunotherapy if not already on it. Hope this helps.

Warren Filley

Georgia Pollen Stations:
Northeast Georgia Research Center, LLC
Station Head(s): John A. Yarbrough, MD
520 Jesse Jewell Parkway
Gainesville, GA 30501
Phone: (770) 534-0534

Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic
Station Head(s): Stanley M Fineman, MD MBA FAAAAI
895 Canton Road
Bldg 200 Suite 200
Marietta (Atlanta), GA 30060
Phone: (770) 579-8979

Coastal Allergy & Asthma, P.C.
Station Head(s): Brad H. Goodman, MD & Bruce D. Finkel, MD
505 Eisenhower Drive
Savannah, GA 31406
Phone: (912) 354-6190

AAAAI - American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology