Allergy-related Google searches follow pollen season ups and downs

Online queries could provide allergen data for areas without monitoring stations

pine pollen

I’M FEELING LUCKY  Peak pollen outpourings from ragweed, oaks and pines (one shown) coincide with spikes in allergy-related Google searches, new research finds.

Paul Appleton/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

PHOENIX — Web searches about runny noses and allergy medications can help researchers track changes in pollen count, new research suggests.

Despite allergies making tens of millions of Americans snotty and miserable each year, 19 states lack any certified pollen counting stations. To fill in these data gaps, Matthew Parker of Mercer University in Macon, Ga., looked at trends in Google searches for terms such as “pollen” and “Zyrtec” from 2004 to 2011 in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Allergy-related searches peaked alongside measurements taken at two nearby pollen counting stations for ragweed, oak and pine pollen, Parker said January 7 at the American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting. The method even worked during an unusual spring 2011 allergy season, he said, which had two distinct pollen peaks roughly two weeks apart.

The results suggest that web searches could be used to track long-term trends in pollen counts in areas without monitoring stations, although the method is limited to areas with large numbers of Internet users, Parker acknowledged. Tracking pollen will become increasingly important, he said, as rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels are expected to boost the length and intensity of peak pollen production (SN: 1/11/03, p. 30).

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