Pollen Collecting and Reporting

Let’s Talk Pollen, Pollen, Pollen Not Just Virus, Virus, Virus!

I know it’s hard to believe, but there are actually people who are so miserable with seasonal allergies, that they momentarily forget about the corona virus.  Of course, they are immediately reminded about the virus as soon as they turn on their radio or TV, or log onto the internet.

We have gotten several questions recently about how we come up with the pollen report that originates here at Intermountain Allergy & Asthma of Draper, so I thought that I would give a brief overview of what’s involved in the daily pollen count.

Collecting the Pollen

Our pollen collecting device sits on the roof of our one-story building here in Draper.  It is a ‘Rotorod’ – which is an appropriate name since it spins a little translucent rod in a circle (at 2400 RPM).  The rod is coated on one side with a thin layer of silicone grease, and when pollen grains (and mold and insects and dust) hit this grease they stick to it.  Each morning we bring in the previous day’s rod and put out a new one.  We then apply a stain to the rod which colors the pollen differently than the other ‘gunk’ on the rod, and we can identify and count the various pollen grains.

Counting the Pollen

There are two certified pollen counters in our office (certified by the National Allergy Bureau) who take turns counting.  We keep track of the numbers of various pollen species as best as we can – but sometimes identifying the precise pollen species is impossible.  Pollen species are identified by size, shape, color (how much the stain affects them), and other various characteristics such as pores, and bumps, and ridges.  Sometimes it’s super easy to tell the exact type of plant a grain of pollen came from, and sometimes not so much.

Imagine that you are counting the different kinds of cars in a used car lot.  One group you can look at from above and easily see they are Toyotas, not Fords.  The next group is all upside down and you can only see them from the bottom.  They have four wheels, so you know they aren’t motorcycles, but other than that, it’s a guess.

Most of the pollen we see is easy to identify, but every pollen counter has several completely ‘unknown’ pollen grains each day.  Sometimes we make educated guesses about pollen types, and hope that we are correct.

Reporting the Daily Pollen Count

We report the pollen count 4 days each week – Monday through Thursday – from roughly early March thru late October.  We put it on our website, Facebook page, and send it out to some news outlets as well.  Remember that the pollen is collected one day, then counted and reported the next.  The pollen report is unavoidably a day behind.  If you are miserable on Monday, check the Tuesday report to see which pollen species to curse at!

The pollen levels (and mold) are reported as low, medium, high, or very high. We feel that this is much more useful to allergy sufferers than listing the actual number of pollen grains counted.  For example, a daily count of 50 grass pollen grains would be listed as ‘very high’, but 50 would be ‘moderate’ for a tree species, and ‘low’ for mold.  Also, the low, moderate, high and very high values are relative to Utah and might be different in other parts of the country.  Our ‘very high’ mold values would probably be low or moderate in Florida or Louisiana.  In fact, I believe that New Orleans residents would openly laugh at our puny mold spore counts!

If you are among those who wish that we had a national shortage of pollen instead of bathroom tissue, come see us – we can help with your symptoms!  Give us a call at 801-553-1900 to schedule an appointment.

Duane Harris, M.D.
Intermountain Allergy & Asthma of Draper
12422 South 450 East Suite C
Draper UT   84020

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