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As pollen torments millions, it might be getting worse, and it's poorly measured in America

Anthony R. Wood, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

“It’s actually pretty enjoyable,” Craig said of pollen-counting. He had a trap, with two silicone-coated spinning arms, about 15 feet above ground on the front porch of his house in the Hershey area. When a hurricane blew through, “I actually saw pollen grains from palm trees.”

But the trap required daily attention.

Teaching and clinical duties moved him to stop counting five years ago.

Donald Dvorin, the Philadelphia region’s only certified counter, can relate. He spends a good hour a day retrieving samples and analyzing slides.

“Very, very few allergists want to get into this because of the time factor,” said Dvorin, an allergist with the Allergy and Asthma Doctors practice in Mount Laurel. And it’s not as though it’s lucrative.

Lo points out that traditionally the counts have been provided by the likes of volunteers such as Craig and Dvorin. Understandably, she said, “their main focus is the patients.”


While not predictive, reliable daily counts affirm what sufferers are experiencing and give them some idea of what they’re in for.

They are particularly important in urban areas, where residents tend to be more sensitive than their rural counterparts, said Craig.

That might be related to the “hygiene hypothesis,” which holds that those who live well outside densely developed areas have better pollen immune systems since they interact more with nature.

Research also suggests that pollution can make pollen more dangerous by breaking down cell walls and allowing the grains to penetrate more deeply into respiratory systems. And pollen levels could be increasing as cities add more green and trees to make urban environments more benign.


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