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Do levels of airborne grass pollen influence asthma hospital admissions?


  • This work was carried out at the Centre for Molecular Environmental Genetic Analytic Epidemiology, School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, Carlton, Vic., Australia.

Dr Bircan Erbas, School of Public Health, La Trobe University, Rm 129, Health Sciences 1, Bundoora, Vic., Australia 3086.


Background The effects of environmental factors and ambient concentrations of grass pollen on allergic asthma are yet to be established.

Objective We sought to estimate the independent effects of grass pollen concentrations in the air over Melbourne on asthma hospital admissions for the 1992–1993 pollen season.

Methods Daily grass pollen concentrations were monitored over a 24-h period at three stations in Melbourne. The outcome variable was defined as all-age asthma hospital admissions with ICD9-493 codes. The ambient air pollutants were average daily measures of ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide, and the airborne particle index representing fine particulate pollution. Semi-parametric Poisson regression models were used to estimate these effects, adjusted for air temperature, humidity, wind speed, rainfall, day-of-the-week effects and seasonal variation.

Results Grass pollen was a strong independent non-linear predictor of asthma hospital admissions in a multi-pollutant model (P=0.01). Our data suggest that grass pollen had an increasing effect on asthma hospital admissions up to a threshold of 30 grains/m3, and that the effect remains stable thereafter.

Conclusion Our findings suggest that grass pollen levels influence asthma hospital admissions. High grass pollen days, currently defined as more than 50 grains/m3, are days when most sensitive individuals will experience allergic symptoms. However, some asthmatic patients may be at a significant risk even when airborne grass pollen levels are below this level. Patients with pollen allergies and asthma would be advised to take additional preventive medication at lower ambient concentrations.