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The relationship between birch pollen, air pollution and weather types and their effect on antihistamine purchase in two Swedish cities

Grundström, Maria, Dahl, Åslög, Ou, Tinghai, Chen, Deliang, Pleijel, Håkan
Aerobiologia 2017 v.33 no.4 pp. 457-471
Betula, air pollutants, air pollution, air quality, antihistamines, atmospheric pressure, cities, hay fever, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulates, pollen, risk, sales, temperature, vapor pressure, wind direction, Sweden
Exposure to elevated air pollution levels can aggravate pollen allergy symptoms. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationships between airborne birch (Betula) pollen, urban air pollutants NO₂, O₃ and PM₁₀ and their effects on antihistamine demand in Gothenburg and Malmö, Sweden, 2006–2012. Further, the influence of large-scale weather pattern on pollen-/pollution-related risk, using Lamb weather types (LWTs), was analysed. Daily LWTs were obtained by comparing the atmospheric pressure over a 16-point grid system over southern Sweden (scale ~3000 km). They include two non-directional types, cyclonic (C) and anticyclonic (A) and eight directional types depending on the wind direction (N, NE, E…). Birch pollen levels were exceptionally high under LWTs E and SE in both cities. Furthermore, LWTs with dry and moderately calm meteorological character (A, NE, E, SE) were associated with strongly elevated air pollution (NO₂ and PM₁₀) in Gothenburg. For most weather situations in both cities, simultaneously high birch pollen together with high air pollution had larger over-the-counter (OTC) sales of antihistamines than situations with high birch pollen alone. LWTs NE, E, SE and S had the highest OTC sales in both cities. In Gothenburg, the city with a higher load of both birch pollen and air pollution, the higher OTC sales were especially obvious and indicate an increased effect on allergic symptoms from air pollution. Furthermore, Gothenburg LWTs A, NE, E and SE were associated with high pollen and air pollution levels and thus classified as high-risk weather types. In Malmö, corresponding high-risk LWTs were NE, E, SE and S. Furthermore, occurrence of high pollen and air pollutants as well as OTC sales correlated strongly with vapour pressure deficit and temperature in Gothenburg (much less so in Malmö). This provides evidence that the combination of meteorological properties associated with LWTs can explain high levels of birch pollen and air pollution. Our study shows that LWTs represent a useful tool for integrated daily air quality forecasting/warning.