Interpreting atmospheric pollen counts for use in clinical allergy: allergic symptomology

Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2001 Feb;86(2):150-7, quiz 158. doi: 10.1016/S1081-1206(10)62683-X.


Background: Allergists generally consider atmospheric pollen counts to be an estimate of the antigenic challenge confronting allergic individuals. The nature of this challenge depends on the particular pollen types found in the atmosphere and also the airborne concentration of these pollen types. Both clinical experience and clinical investigations support these assumptions; however, a coherent system for relating pollen counts and allergic symptomology does not exist.

Objective: This review article will systematically review the medical and technical literature concerning the clinical significance of atmospheric pollen counts.

Data sources: This review article will consider three independent bodies of literature: 1) data contrasting human exposure patterns with rooftop pollen counts; 2) data concerning dose-response relationships between atmospheric pollen counts and allergic symptomology; and 3) data concerning methods for indexing atmospheric pollen counts based on a pollen type's in vivo allergenicity and terminal velocity.

Results: Three principal results emerged. First, rooftop pollen counts imperfectly approximate human exposure to atmospheric pollen. Differences in both the concentration and type of pollen encountered by humans can be expected to differ from samples obtained on rooftops. Second, allergic symptomology is positively correlated with atmospheric pollen counts. Investigations involving Betula (birch) pollen offer quantitative dose-response models. Complex, nonlinear relationships that seem to reflect both the priming effect and late-phase reactions exist. Last, atmospheric pollen counts can be indexed based on a contemporary application of Thommen's postulates. This system provides allergists with a means to estimate the clinical significance of various pollen types by combining data concerning in vivo allergenicity and terminal velocity.

Conclusions: These conclusions should allow allergists to judge the clinical significance of atmospheric pollen counts with greater sophistication than was previously possible.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / analysis*
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / analysis
  • Allergens / physiology
  • Cell Count
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Immunologic
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / immunology*
  • Pollen / cytology*


  • Allergens