The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ (ARFNZ) is warning people with allergies and asthma to prepare for an intense spring and summer, as forecasts indicate ideal conditions for pollen production.
NIWA meteorologist Ben Noll explains that a warmer than average start to the year, coupled with the wettest July on record means the stage is set for strong plant growth and associated pollen production.
"As we look ahead to next couple of months, we are generally expecting warmer than average temperatures to continue. We know that also a warmer climate leads to more growth and it may lead to earlier growth. So it could be that people in the North Island, where it has been particularly warm, may be exposed to pollen earlier than usual," he explains.
New Zealand is also heading into its third consecutive La Nina weather event, which brings in more northerly and north-easterly winds from the tropics which also aid growing conditions.
ARFNZ Chief Executive Letitia Harding is reminding New Zealanders with allergies and allergic asthma (asthma triggered by allergies) to take precautions to keep themselves well. "It can be a difficult time of year for the respiratory community, but being prepared and taking some simple, but effective, steps can make all the difference," she says.
She advises everyone with allergic asthma to ensure they have an up-to-date Asthma Action Plan, so they know what to do if their asthma is triggered or worsened by pollen. She also recommends that people keep their medications with them at all times.
The Foundation recommends that people keep their windows closed in the early morning when pollen is at its peak, and on windy days, and to dry clothes indoors if possible. "Pollen can drift onto washing hung outside and accumulate on clothes and skin throughout the day. It’s a good idea to shower before bed to remove any allergens that could trigger symptoms overnight," Letitia explains.
These precautions may become increasingly important as climate change influences pollen production. Overseas researchers have already warned that warmer temperatures are increasing pollen levels. Ben says it is likely that New Zealand will see similar impacts: "In a warming world, we should expect a rejig to the pollen calendar. We will be learning in real time what the impact of this will mean."