An olive tree in full blossom, which usually begins in April SUR
Malaga reaches pollen peak in what is being dubbed as one of the worst springs for allergy sufferers

Malaga reaches pollen peak in what is being dubbed as one of the worst springs for allergy sufferers

In Andalucía, almost 25% of the population suffers from respiratory allergies, which is equivalent to slightly more than 2.5 million people

Chus Heredia


Monday, 13 May 2024, 12:11


Those allergic to olive trees and grass will need to be on high alert this week and next, with experts predicting extremely high pollen levels.

It comes amid one of the worst springs for allergy sufferers this year. Urticaceae - of the nettle family - is in the yellow (the colour that indicates moderate pollen levels) these days, but is expected to go into the red (higher levels) in a few days in areas such as the Serranía de Ronda and Alta Axarquía. Quercus or oak trees are also in the yellow in almost the whole Malaga province. The amaranthaceae - another type of common flower - will also go into the yellow in coastal areas in the next few days.

Malaga is expected to reach its maximum pollen peak in the next two weeks, although this is yet to be confirmed. In Andalucía, almost 25% of the population suffers from respiratory allergies, which is equivalent to slightly more than 2.5 million people. Most of these are caused by grass and olive tree pollens and result in runny noses, congestion, sneezing, red eyes and itching, or asthma, according to data from the Andalusian Society of Allergology and Clinical Immunology (SEAIC).

The allergist's point of view

SUR spoke to experienced allergist José María Vega, who practises at the Regional University Hospital of Malaga and is a member of the SEAIC. And indeed, it was expected to be a tough spring for allergy sufferers, and it is proving to be. The cause? The professional pointed out early flowering, coupled with generous rainfall and high temperatures.

On the Malaga coast there is another phenomenon in addition to pollination, which is the direction of the winds. The abundance of "terral" winds is multiplying the presence of allergens from pollens from the inland of the province. When the easterly wind blows, things change and the air becomes cleaner.

"In areas such as Antequera or Archidona, the levels of olive tree pollen is brutal," Vega said, while calling for allergies to be taken seriously, adding that mild symptoms can easily turn asthmatic. He recommended going beyond mere antihistamines, and taking up vaccines.

Vega said young patients with some allergies can evolve very well with vaccines, which would reduce cases that end in asthma to 20%. The doctor advised having a check-up and seeing a specialist in more severe cases.

A tough month ahead

How long is grass and olive tree pollen going to be out in force? At least until the end of May, said the doctor. The grasses will wither first and the olive trees, somewhat later, if there is bad luck with winds, rain and temperatures, in mid-June. It will also depend on the altitude. At 600 metres, for example, these weather effects tend to occur about 15 days later than closer to the coast.

Physical exercise or spending time outdoors, of course, worsen the symptoms. "It's been a horrible few days for allergy sufferers," Vega said. We always talk about reactions to pollen, as allergies can occur at any time of the year and at any age and there are many types (food, surfaces, animal hair, mites, chemicals...) And whatever the type, they can cause reactions ranging from mild to very serious. And it is not due to a drop in defences, it is the opposite, due to a rise in immunoglobulin E.

Botany department advice

According to SEAIC, environmental pollutants interact with pollen mainly at three levels: they increase the allergenic potency of pollen, making it more reactive; they act as transporters of allergenic particles from pollen and other plant parts; and they irritate the respiratory mucosa and favour the penetration of aeroallergens.

Measuring pollen is carried out weekly in the laboratory and sent from the Departamento de Botánica y Fisiología Vegetal at the UMA (Malaga University) to the University of Cordoba, which coordinates the monitoring network nationally. This year, the figures are right at the average concentrations in Malaga over the past 30 years. On this point lecturer Antonio Picornell said last year was the highest, three times higher than this year.

Olive blossom levels picked at the end of April and is already beginning to fall gradually. Grasses, on the other hand, are still on the rise. Both allergens are at red levels right now in Malaga province.

Many factors cause allergies, even a wardrobe change

Picornell pointed out that more people are suffering due to a growing awareness of having some kind of allergy. He said even taking summer clothes out of the wardrobe for the first time can trigger a reaction.

Some pollutants make it easier to shed allergenic pollen particles and cause more symptoms at lower levels of actual pollen. If rain were to appear again, instead of favouring flowering as in early spring, it would clean up the air. In fact, the two days of rain last week slightly reduced the pollen collected at the UMA observatory.

A peculiarity of the olive tree's flowering is that one year's strong harvest is usually followed by the opposite the following year.

On climate change and drawing conclusions on flowering, there are not always consistent conclusions. Sometimes the process is brought forward but in a more erratic way. Early flowering does not always multiply the potency of pollens. At least that is what researchers conclude from mathematical models and artificial intelligence.

Allergy advice

In addition to health advice, allergy sufferers should keep vehicles and their filters clean, as well as using anti-pollen filters; sunglasses while driving; avoid driving if you have taken antihistamines; wash your nose and eyes with plenty of water to alleviate the effects of the allergy; keep windows at home closed as much as possible; avoid parks and gardens, as well as going out into the countryside; avoid travelling by motorbike and bicycle; use air conditioning in the house because it has filters; do not cut the grass or go near it when it is freshly cut, and wash your hair every night.

Additional factors that can worsen symptoms are fumes and vapours, strong odours, air pollution, sudden changes in temperature, and spontaneous physical exercise. Even a mask in the open air can help. Other decisions that can help are to look for beach areas, to find out about pollen levels, to keep clothes clean and to dry them inside rather than outside.

The Spanish Aerobiology Network (REA) is coordinated from the University of Cordoba. The Aerobiology group of the University of Malaga has been integrated in it since 1992.

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