• Allergies cost the South African economy more than a billion rand
  • A person’s allergy burden depends on what they’re allergic to and where they live
  • Pollution does not cause allergies, but it can make them worse


More people are suffering from allergies on the African continent, and South Africa is no exception.

“One in five people suffer from hayfever in South Africa,” said Prof Jonny Peter, head of the department of allergology and clinical immunology at the University of Cape Town. This can range from a blocked nose through to sneezing attacks, and can increase your chances of missing work and getting sinusitis and other infections.

Expensive allergies

According to pharmaceutical company Pharmadynamics, allergies cost the South African economy more than R600-million a year. And allergies themselves are big business, with Pharmadynamics estimating that allergy suffers in total spend more than R480-million a year on allergy medications.

Pollen distribution across the country

The most common triggers are aeroallergens, which you breathe in, and the distribution of these aeroallergens changes across the country.

“I don’t think there’s an area that is totally low allergy,” says Peter. “It is more of a case of what are your particular allergens are.”

A seminal paper in published 1996 shows where in South Africa you’re most likely to find certain pollens.

People with grass allergies should avoid the Highveld

“Grass season in the Highveld is 10 months of the year, whereas in the Cape the grass pollen season is restricted to between September and March,” Peter says.

Grass allergies are also often worse in urban areas than rural areas where the grass is allowed to grow long and spreads through its roots.

If a person is allergic to maize pollen, then the Free State -- often referred to as the Bread Basket of South Africa -- would be a difficult place to live because of its commercial maize plantations.

Coastal areas, like Durban, are more likely to have indoor mould than the drier climates of the Highveld, so people with mould allergies are more likely to suffer in these places.

Pollution makes allergies worse

While pollutants do not cause allergies, they aggravate them, says Peter. “Pollutants like second-hand cigarette smoke, car fumes, and industrial pollution, are not specifically allergenic, but they have been shown to aggravate allergic inflammation.

“If you are someone with a propensity for allergic rhinitis or asthma, it makes it worse.”

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