What is a pollen count?

Allergy sufferers have learned to dread the early weeks of spring. Everywhere you turn, there is a yellow-green film of pollen on cars, glass and other outdoor surfaces that can trigger watery eyes, sneezing and sniffling all day long.

Before you walk out the door each morning, you may have gotten in the habit of checking the pollen count in your area so you can prepare for your worst allergy symptoms. But have you ever wondered how these numbers are measured and what they really mean? Let's examine what you should know about pollen counts as spring kicks off!

How are pollen counts measured?

Pollen counts are fixtures of weather reports in the spring and summer, and this number is taken using a sampling system called a "rotorod." According to Pollen.com, this rod consists of an array of silicone grease coated clear rods that are exposed to the air at key points throughout the day. These rods are then stained or examined under a microscope to measure the concentration of pollen grains, which are then converted to a concentration that is measured in grains per cubic meter of air.

Pollen counts are typically measured on a scale of 0-12 that take into account the amount of pollen an allergy sufferer will be exposed to during a given day. Low pollen levels come in at 0-2.4, Low-Medium is 2.5-4.8, Medium is 4.9-7.2, High-Medium is 7.3-9.6, and High is 9.7-12.0. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, these rotorods must be placed on a rooftop at least one story high, as well as away from any significant pollen or mold sources that could skew the results.

How to stay on top of pollen counts

While increasing numbers of local and national television news stations have begun reporting pollen counts with their traditional forecasts, allergy sufferers should take the initiative in early spring to stay on top of pollen forecasts. Here are a few free apps to keep in mind:

  • Weather.com App: The Weather Channel's app is already one of the most popular weather apps available, but it also has the option of setting up pollen alerts that can be sent to your device via text or email.
  • Pollen.com Allergy Alert: The Pollen.com Allergy Alert app will provide information and alerts about pollen forecasts in your zip code. This app has the added benefit of in-depth information about top allergens with detailed plant descriptions and images in your area.
  • AllergyManager: In addition to measuring pollen counts in your area, the AllergyManager app lets you track seasonal allergens, pollen counts, and the severity of your symptoms. As an added benefit, the app also has a medication refill reminder to ensure that you can stay on top of your allergy medicine purchases.
  • Zyrtec AllergyCast: This is among the most popular allergy tracking apps available that provides pollen and weather forecasts, notifications for high pollen levels, as well as indicators for which types of pollen are prevalent at the moment, and actionable tips on how to deal with them.

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