Pollen from grasses, weeds or trees is a common trigger for allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever and asthma symptoms in Australia. If you are allergic to pollen, minimising your exposure will help keep you well when pollen counts are at their highest.

The ACT tree pollen season generally runs between September and October. The grass pollen season runs from October to December. There are several factors that may affect higher pollen levels during the 2020 pollen season. 

These include:

  • Wetter than average conditions experienced in the ACT during the winter season, with above average rainfall and above average minimum temperatures.
  • The outlook for September to November indicates a wetter than average three-month period for the eastern two thirds of Australia.
  • As of late August 2020, a La Niña ALERT is currently active for Australia. La Niña and warmer eastern Indian Ocean temperatures typically increase the likelihood of above average rainfall across much of Australia during spring (Source: Bureau of Meteorology, August2020).

Symptoms of pollen allergy

Pollen allergy can cause:

  • runny, itchy, blocked nose
  • sneezing
  • irritable, itchy, watery and red eyes
  • itchy ears, throat and roof of the mouth

Allergic rhinitis caused by pollen allergy can lead to sinus infections and poor sleep. It also makes asthma harder to control. Fortunately, there is plenty people can do to manage their asthma and hay fever.

How to prepare for pollen season in the ACT

Remember, you may not have been previously diagnosed with asthma, but can experience regular symptoms during spring, including wheezing and sneezing. If this happens, consult your doctor. You may benefit from preventer medication and having an action plan for emergencies.

As pollen season approaches, here are some things you can do to prepare:

  • If you are affected by pollen, see your doctor at the beginning of spring to make sure your action plan is in place.
  • If you have asthma, always carry your blue reliever puffer with you and follow a written asthma action plan so that you can respond to a flare up of symptoms from a range of potential causes
  • If you have hay fever, see your pharmacist or doctor for a hay fever treatment plan
  • If you have hay fever, and especially if you experience wheezing and coughing with your hay fever, it is important to make sure you don’t also have asthma. Speak to your doctor for further advice.
  • Download the AirRater app. This free app provides users with up-to-date information on total pollen (including tree and grass pollens), smoke pollution and temperature in the ACT.  Users of the app can report their daily symptoms of asthma, allergies and hay fever. Over time, the app will provide personal feedback on what sets off users' symptoms, whether that be smoke, grass pollen or cold weather.
  • Visit the Canberra Pollen Count and Forecast Service. This page provides a daily grass pollen forecast and a free app available from iTunes or Google Play. 
  • Access the free ACT Children’s Asthma Education Service. This service is maintained by the Australian National University with input and support by the ACT Health Directorate.
    The service provides children, young people and their families with initial and continuing support to manage their asthma. 

Please note that pollen levels may vary between AirRater and the Canberra Pollen Count and Forecast Service from time to time. These differences arise because AirRater measures total pollens and Canberra Pollen Count and Forecast Service measures grass pollen only.

Thunderstorm asthma

Pollen season also brings the chance of thunderstorm asthma. Thunderstorm asthma is a rare event triggered by an uncommon combination of high grass pollen and a specific kind of thunderstorm, causing pollen grains from grasses to be swept up in the wind and carried long distances. People with asthma and hay fever are at risk of developing symptoms, sometimes severe, during a thunderstorm asthma event.

For people with asthma or hay fever, especially those who experience wheezing or coughing with their hay fever, thunderstorm asthma can be sudden, serious and even life threatening. Not all people with asthma are affected by thunderstorm asthma, and some people who suffer from thunderstorm asthma do not have a history of asthma.

Thunderstorm asthma events are uncommon and don’t occur every year. However, when they do, they generally occur during the grass pollen season which runs from September through to December in south-east Australia.

If pollen is a problem for you, then thunderstorms in spring and summer may also affect you. To reduce the risk of thunderstorm asthma, it is recommended to aim for optimum asthma management year-round. This means optimising preventer use during spring thunderstorm season, controlling hay fever, checking pollen levels, downloading the AirRater app and avoiding exposure to pollen on these days where possible.

COVID-19 and asthma/hay fever

COVID-19 symptoms can be similar to those experienced by hay fever and asthma sufferers. If you have a fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath – isolate yourself and get tested. If you are in doubt, phone your GP to discuss.

If you are a hay fever sufferer, see your GP at the beginning of Spring to discuss a management plan. This can include how to prevent and manage your symptoms, and when you might need to get tested if you experience COVID-19 symptoms.

If you have asthma, ensure your treatment plan has been recently reviewed by your GP. Discuss when you might need to get tested for COVID-19 if you develop symptoms.

More information can be found on the COVID-19 and hay fever page on the website. 

Further resources

Page last updated on: 17 Sep 2020