An early start to the hayfever season in Victoria

Hayfever season is expected to hit early this year in Victoria, prompting a warning to allergy sufferers to be prepared.

“It is really important that people are taking extra precautions earlier than usual, to make sure they’re not being caught out,” pollen count expert Edwin Lampugnani said.

Warmer and drier conditions are to blame, largely due to an expected shift from La Niña to El Niño weather patterns.

“The warm weather is causing something a little unusual, and that is that it’s looking like there is quite a bit of early growth in grass,” Dr Lampugnani said.

For the past three years, the country has experienced wetter La Niña seasons which typically bring cooler daytime temperatures and more winter and spring rainfall across eastern Australia.

Maps showing soil moisture levels in Victoria currently and a year ago
Higher temperatures and reduced rainfall means less moisture in the soil this year compared to the last.(Bureau of Meteorology)

With the expected emergence of El Niño patterns, elevated temperatures and a higher risk of drought may be on the way.

This shift will impact the growth and flowering of pasture grasses. The pollen from these grasses can trigger respiratory allergies.

According to the Melbourne Pollen Count and Forecast, higher temperatures and reduced rainfall suggest a low likelihood of additional grass growth, but these warmer temperatures will facilitate an earlier onset of grass flowering. 

This is expected to trigger allergies earlier. 

Victoria, an allergy capital of Australia

About one in five Australians have allergies and about one in nine have asthma, with a large portion of sufferers located in Victoria.

“Victoria is one of the capitals for allergies in Australia,” Dr Lampugnani said.

“We have a lot of grasslands or pasture lands and so there is a lot of grass around.

“That generally means that people in Victoria and southern New South Wales and, to some extent, South Australia, have a lot of pollen in the air that can affect their allergies.”

Some people might already be experiencing symptoms, which Dr Lampugnani said could be an allergy towards cypress trees.

“As we approach October and November, those tree pollens will start reducing but we’ll start to have the grass pollen come through,” he said.

The grass pollen season will run from October to December, with symptoms likely peaking around November.

This year’s outlook suggests an average pollen season

It’s not all bad news for allergy sufferers.

A warmer and drier spring could mean an early end to the season.

And after some bad seasons for allergies, this year’s outlook suggests a return to an average grass pollen season.

Large yellow-green trees taking about three-quarters of the frame with blue sky in the top left corner
Tree and grass pollen are two main contributors to hay fever.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Zilla Gordon )

“The main driver of allergies, particularly in Victoria, is grass pollen. Of course, one of the things that you need is grass and for grass to grow, you need water,” Dr Lampugnani said.

“For large parts of Australia, there’s reduced rainfall predicted and that will mean that the season won’t be as bad as last year in particular.

“But that doesn’t mean that it won’t be a bad year for allergy sufferers.”

Dr Lampugnani said there are at least 20 days forecast between now and the end of the year which have been labelled high and extreme — when allergies are at their worst.

So, how can you prepare? 

Immunologist Kymble Spriggs said it was unclear why some people were more likely to suffer from allergies than others.

An itchy throat, runny nose and sore eyes are all common symptoms for people with hayfever allergies.

The advice is to be proactive and start taking medication early as a preventative measure rather than a treatment.

“Hayfever symptoms can be bad at any time,” Dr Spriggs said.

“And people’s exposure varies depending on whether they’re inside or outside.

Woman using an asthma puffer
Pollen from grasses can trigger thunderstorm asthma which can be deadly. (AAP: Alan Porritt)

“I would recommend that they they treat their allergies [with] simple over the counter medications such as antihistamines and nasal spray.”

Anyone with asthma is strongly urged to visit a GP and have an up-to-date asthma management plan.

Checking the pollen forecast is also advised, and making the decision to stay indoors on high or extreme pollen days to limit exposure could reduce symptoms.


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