‘Pollen potency’: the relationship between atmospheric pollen counts and allergen exposure
Tegart, LJ and Johnston, Fay and Borchers Arriagada, N and Workman, A and Dickinson, JL and Green, BJ and Jones, PJ, Pollen potency': the relationship between atmospheric pollen counts and allergen exposure, Aerobiologia ISSN 0393-5965 (2021) [Refereed Article]
Pollen allergies are responsible for a considerable global public health burden, and understanding exposure is critical to addressing the health impacts. Atmospheric pollen counts are routinely used as a predictor of risk; however, immune responses are triggered by specific proteins known as allergens, which occur both within and on the surface of the pollen grain. The ratio between atmospheric pollen counts and allergen concentrations (‘pollen potency’) has been shown to be inconsistent, with potentially important implications for pollen monitoring practice. Despite this, there has been no previous synthesis of the literature and our understanding of the factors that influence pollen potency remains poor. We conducted a scoping review with the aim of deriving a current understanding of: (a) the factors that influence pollen potency; (b) its variation through time, between taxa and by location; and (c) the implications for pollen monitoring practice. Our synthesis found that pollen potency is highly variable within and between seasons, and between locations; however, much of this variability remains unexplained and has not been deeply investigated. We found no predictable pollen potency patterns relating to taxon, geography or time, and inconclusive evidence regarding possible driving factors. With respect to human health, the studies in our synthesis generally reported larger associations between atmospheric allergen loads and allergy symptoms than whole pollen counts. This suggests that pollen potency influences public health risk; however, the evidence base remains limited. Further research is needed to better understand both pollen potency variability and its implications for health.