Expert Insights on Pollen-Caused Diseases and Environmental Data

September 22, 2023
2 min read
Expert Insights on Pollen-Caused Diseases and Environmental DataExpert Insights on Pollen-Caused Diseases and Environmental Data

Ah, springtime! It's the time of year when the sun shines, the flowers bloom, and pollen is in full force. For many of us, the abundance of pollen in the air can be a real nuisance–causing watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, and even headaches. However, for some, pollen can be much more than just an annoyance–it can be a severe health risk.

Let’s not beat around the bush. Even though pollen is pretty lightweight, the risks that stem from it are anything but. Professors at the University of Michigan have studied and predicted that just in the USA alone, people would have to suffer a 200% rise in total pollen this century, given our emissions.

Keep aside a century. In the past 12 months alone, more than 7% of the United State’s population has been diagnosed with hay fever. That’s roughly 20 million people. The very thought of this is enough to make our head pound–and pollen can ensure it actually will.

To get a better understanding of the problems pollen poses and how the world’s technologies are tackling it, we sought expert insights from Dr. Adam Bohr–CTO and co-founder of Sonohaler. Sonohaler is a digital health company based in Copenhagen, Denmark, that builds next-gen digital inhaler solutions based on acoustic technologies and AI, enabling enhanced management of acute and chronic respiratory conditions. Dr. Bohr was formerly an assistant professor at the Department of Pharmacy at the University of Copenhagen and has published more than 50+ papers and books on pharmaceuticals and healthcare.

Here’s what we learned from our conversation:

What’s the extent of pollen? – Pollen and respiratory diseases

Dr. Bohr: We often associate pollen with allergies and hay fever. However, pollen is also a common trigger among people with asthma, and in fact, allergy and asthma often occur together.

As with non-asthma-related allergies, pollen can elicit an immune response in people. Such responses cause symptoms including nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes, and skin problems, in addition to asthmatic symptoms affecting the lungs and the airways. Pollen can therefore act as a trigger for asthma symptoms. This makes pollen level a very relevant parameter for an individual to avoid unnecessary exposure to the local environment. It especially helps the person with taking preventative measures, including medication intake or wearing a face mask.

Environmental intelligence, including weather (temperature, humidity, and wind) and air quality, can also help the asthmatic individual prepare for exposure to known triggers or avoid them altogether. Asthma events are commonly associated with weather-related features, including cold dry air, hot humid air, windy weather, and high air pollution. Such environmental triggers not only result in the mentioned asthma symptoms but also worsen the pre-existing asthma condition. Is there a way to build a preventative healthcare solution for great downstream benefits? Digital asthma management solutions such as those developed by Sonohaler use environmental intelligence combined with cutting-edge technology to deliver high-quality management and preventative care.

Dr. Bohr’s insights, combined with ongoing research, have made it clear that if not now, then at least very soon, pollen will be a serious problem. The same study from the University of Michigan shows that pollen seasons will start up to 40 days earlier in the spring and last up to 19 days longer. Individuals, patients, users, and companies need an ally in this changing world. We need accurate data that can shield us all.

Which is tough in the case of pollen.

What’s lacking in available pollen data?

Dr. Bohr: The specificity of pollen allergies from specific sources is well known, and so is the seasonal nature of the pollen from different sources. What needs to be discovered and understood is if the pollen information available in weather sites is locally monitored and how the pollen counts can be generated and reported locally.

Often the pollen counts presented on weather or allergy-related sites are not local. For instance, in Denmark, the national allergy website only gives two sets of pollen counts, one for the western side of the country and one for the eastern side of the country. This poses the question of whether a pollen count measured up to 200km from the location of an individual is still relevant and how much one should rely on such general pollen data.

Pollen data that is highly local & accurate can help sufferers make the correct decisions while planning their day-to-day. Even a low pollen count can indeed cause rash symptoms in some people. Consider that in the scope of rising emissions, that make pollen counts go sky high. It’s vital, then, that such healthcare is personalized and accurate.

And that’s what Ambee has.

How can pollen data help respiratory diseases?

Dr. Bohr: The area of respiratory care holds a lot of promise for improvement via better use of telehealth, remote monitoring, better instructions for using inhalation devices, and tying together all the health-related data for better diagnostics and preventing disease progression.

We are also excited about the possibility of aggregating different health data to provide links between these data sets and better understand the disease condition of the individuals. With the increasing capabilities of smartphones, smartwatches, and other devices, more and more health data can be collected and used to understand the dynamic course of an individual's health and habits. Such data will become an important tool in providing more personalized healthcare and encouraging people to take more control and responsibility for their health.

Ambee’s pollen API in use

Ambee’s APIs aid many companies in seasonal allergy diagnosis and help them devise personalized treatment plans based on the individual’s triggers, symptoms, profile, and lifestyle.

Ambee has helped a digital health organization achieve better diagnoses and create personalized treatment plans. This provided detailed information on a patient's past exposure to hazardous pollutants and allergens directly to the patient or even to the patient's physician if authorized.

Dr. Bohr’s thoughts on Ambee

We believe that Ambee is working for a great cause to provide better information to people and help companies utilize environmental tracking to better understand causal relationships between local events at a given time.

We believe that there is potential for more and better use of such local data to inform individuals about their health and their relationship with environmental cues, which are observed over a timespan and across seasonal variations in weather.

We’d like to thank Dr. Adam Bohr for taking out the time to give us such important insights.

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