Digital Life

Pollen app will track hayfever in the ACT

Hayfever alert: the new app will let Canberrans know pollen levels.
Hayfever alert: the new app will let Canberrans know pollen levels. 

A mobile app tracking and forecasting pollen levels has been issued by the Australian National University, designed to help hayfever and asthma sufferers, who can  in turn contribute to national research. 

The free Canberra Pollen app  has been developed by the ANU's Department of Archaeology and Natural History, which has used its expertise in pre-historic pollen to  study pollen in the modern atmosphere.

Department head Simon Haberle said it had the "biggest pollen collection in the southern hemisphere pretty much".

"There's 15,000 plant species from Australia and the region in our collection, and as a result we have people who are quite well trained and skilled in palynology or the study of pollen,"  Professor Haberle said.

"For about four years we've been monitoring pollen in Canberra as a research-driven project, but now we believe we're beginning to understand enough about why or how pollen is changing through the pollen seasons and we've got the equipment to track it and monitor it.


"We're using that as a way of providing daily pollen counts to the Canberra community and we've got a lot of positive responses." 

The Canberra Pollen app - available on iPhones and Android - is a multi-disciplinary collaboration  project, and allows allergy sufferers to take preventative measures during times of high exposure.

While it can be dowloaded now, it will officially start posting data on October 1, including the level of pollen, updated about 4pm each day, what the pollen levels were over the past 24 hours and a forecast page predicting pollen levels for six days ahead.

Unlike other pollen indices, the app also has a survey designed to study the affects of pollen on users, who can rate their hayfever symptoms each day on a five-point scale of none to severe.

"We're collaborating with medical people and people interested in the allergic responses of different pollen, as well as people looking at landscape and climate change," Professor Haberle said.

"It's an Australia-wide network but it's really only Canberra and Melbourne that have this app and the capacity to do this kind of monitoring.

"Hopefully people will engage with this public-good facility."

Canberra "is top of the pops in terms of hayfever sufferers" by population within Australia - estimates say one in five are affected - something Professor Haberle said came from geography, as well as local ecology.

"It's because of where we sit regionally, surrounded by land; whereas places like Melbourne and Sydney have an ocean border which obviously reduces the direction from which pollen can be derived from, we've got 360 degrees of land which can bring pollen from any direction," he said.

"Canberra and Sydney [also] have a double season because of the early flowering of certain grass species and then in January/February there's a secondary flowering event which potentially can affect people as well."

The app - as well as  Twitter and Facebook accounts - will keep Canberrans up-to-date on pollen until the end of December.

Professor Haberle said funding would determine whether it could continue through the second pollen season in January and February.