‘Tis Spring – the Sneezing Season – As 10% of Suffering Locals Will Confirm

April heralds sneezing season in France as Spring loads the air with pollen and the French among others in the northern hemisphere flock to their local pharmacy for relief.

Honeycombs full of pollen, the upside of  the sneezing season. (Credit Wikipedia)

Honeycombs full of pollen, the upside of the sneezing season. (Credit Wikipedia)

In France, according to recent research, some 6 million out of a total  65.7 million of the population is likely to suffer some kind of respiratory allergy, a figure that stood at 3 percent in 1960 and was unheard of two hundred years ago. Three out of four people in the western world will suffer at least one allergic attack in their life time.

This useful map shows the levels of pollen load in the air as well as its distribution across the country and is a boon to allergy sufferers.

The meteovista.be website which provides the map warns: “Hay fever is an unpleasant condition affecting many. The extent to which people may experience hay fever depends to a great extent on weather conditions. Wind speed, wind direction, precipitation and temperature are all factors determining the degree of discomfort. This weather report is a useful way of helping people affected by hay fever.”

Meteovista has a forecast across France of pollen levels from the following trees: Elder, hazel, birch, oak, ash, cypress, olive, plane, and chestnut together with grasses and herbs such as ambrosia and nettle.

Prévisions polliniques

Prévisions polliniques détaillées dans Toulouse

This website offers updated reports on the impact of pollen in the air and includes a calendar covering the worst periods.

Below is the official government site showing the worst affected areas in France:

Pollen warning map for France (Credit RNSA website)

Pollen warning map for France (Credit RNSA website)

The interactive map above shows:

On the website you can hover with your mouse over the area of your choice and it will show the level of risk for each allergic pollen (on some browsers, you have to “Allow Blocked Content” to be able to see the table of risks).

Here Mike Alexander, French News Online’s nature and gardening correspondent, details some of the issues setting man and pollen on a collision course as the season changes:

First diagnosed in 1819 by the physician John Bostock hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is not the same as asthma though both allergies are often thought to be triggered by the same factors. Asthma is an inflammation of the bronchial tissue whilst hay fever, rhume des foins in French, tends to inflame the nasal passages.


Read all Mike Alexander’s gardening advice here and here


Both can cause respiratory problems as well as itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing. More severe cases can include eczema or even depression and asthma in children is frequently associated with other allergies such as food allergies.

There are different theories about the dramatic increase in these two allergies. One is the “hygiene hypothesis” suggesting that with growing hygiene standards both in our homes and at food processing centres we no longer develop our immune systems as fully as we did in earlier times. This leads to an overreaction by our bodies to normally harmless dust or pollen molecules. Supporters of this theory point to the fact that children brought up in the proximity of farmyard animals are shown to suffer lower incidents of these allergies.

Another theory is that the problem is environmental and may be caused by general pollution with air pollution being the most likely offender.

This theory tends to draw on the observation that richer industrialized countries have been much more severely affected in recent decades by the increase in allergies. It might also detract from the hygiene hypothesis as children living close to farm animals will by definition often live in areas with less polluted air.

Regardless of which theory one adheres to, one thing all scientists seem to agree on is that global weather changes are impacting on the frequency at which allergies are occurring.

Thanks to a very mild winter and early Spring hay fever season in France arrived a month earlier than last year and to make matters worse, for those susceptible to air born particles, higher than normal amounts of dust have been carried over to Europe on winds from North Africa in recent weeks.

The increased levels of pollen as plants begin to flower at this time of year are of course another significant factor in allergic attacks.

Pollen good for bees bad for hay fever

Pollen good for bees bad for hay fever (Credit Wikipedia)

Lighter air born pollens such as those of the birch tree are much more of a problem than heavier pollens while grasses are among the biggest culprits in causing asthma, particularly grass crops — wheat and maize.

All the literature counsels medical advice for the most severe cases as a doctor can order tests to try and discover the most likely allergens involved.

There is presently no cure for these common respiratory allergies so apologies to the itchy-eyed and streaming-nosed among you but as you suffer perhaps take some solace in the fact that without the pollen, bees would not be pollinating and the hives would be empty of honey.

Story: Mike Alexander

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