An electron micrograph of a giant ragweed pollen, a cause of hay fever. (Getty Images)
  • Cape Town has a dedicated “spore” counter, which counts the spores of allergens such fungi, and tree and grass pollen, in the air.
  • Allergic rhinitis is the most commonly reported allergy, affecting 16-million people in South Africa
  • Pollen is the main cause of these allergic reactions


Allergy sufferers in Cape Town can find out at which times of the year they are going to need to stock up on antihistamines and when to avoid being outdoors.

A spore counter in the suburb of Woodstock tracks allergen-linked spores and researchers publish its results once a week.

Allergic rhinitis (nasal inflammation, which includes sneezing, a runny nose), which is the most commonly reported allergy, affects about 16-million people in South Africa, according to PharmaDynamics. Allergens, such as pollens, cause allergic reactions in your body, and your body produces an immune response to fight it.

But while you can clean your house to kill dust mites or avoid certain foods, you can’t see the airborne allergens, such as pollen or fungal spores, that you breathe in.

“With alterations in seasonal patterns such as the drought and global warming contributing to hay fever, it is important to monitor the release of pollen into the atmosphere so that treatment can be adjusted accordingly,” said Nicole Jennings, PharmaDynamics’ head of corporate communications.

The spore counter, a collaboration between Pharmadynamics and the University of Cape Town’s Lung Institute Allergy and Immunology Clinic, is mounted onto a rooftop. It is about one-metre high, with a huge vane to catch the wind, explained Dilys Berman, an aerobiologist who deciphers the “catch” of the spore counter. A sticky strip inside the counter traps pollen and spores, which researchers then identify and count.

Most places in South Africa, however, are unsampled for airborne allergens.

“The problem is that pollen counts vary across the country,” said Prof Jonny Peter, head of the department of allergology and clinical immunology at the University of Cape Town.

Unfortunately, with a price tag of R100,000 to import and install, they are too expensive to have installed at home. “It is technical process to run a spore trap and requires experience to interpret the trapped aerosols,” said Berman.

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