Yellow breezes transport dose of tears and sneezes

HARD TO BREATHE: Pollen is blowing across the North Island.
HARD TO BREATHE: Pollen is blowing across the North Island.

An explosion of pine pollen in Manawatu has left streets awash in yellow scum and people in tears, desperate for hayfever relief.

The annual pine pollen season hits the country between late July and early August, and is followed by the grass pollen season.

Massey University Associate Professor of plant biology (retired) David Fountain said so much pollen was in the air during the short season that it collected in puddles, houses and on cars.

"It's in the air in such huge quantities for about three to four weeks and it comes from a distance," he said. "In Palmerston North, for example, we get pine pollen about one or two weeks before it flowers because it blows in from Tangimoana from the coastal forests.

"It collects in the sea in the Wellington Harbour as yellow scum and it's well known in Lake Taupo where it builds up on the beaches."

Dr Fountain said New Zealand's gradient meant Auckland and northern regions had already had their dose but it was yet to come for the southern areas.

Dr Fountain said most people were not allergic to pine pollen, although it was an irritant.

The "big guns in the pollen world are the grasses", some of which had already begun flowering and would cause hayfever.

"It's a real, invisible threat to people who have allergies because pine pollen is the only one you can see clearly - grass pollen is much, much smaller," he said.

"They are invisible clouds we breathe in and out, and some people - about 20 per cent - react to them."

Palmerston North Unichem chemist shop manager Alistair Whyte said there had been an increase in antihistamine medications sought during the past few days. "It's really only been the past couple of days - we've not had a strong result in our sales data yet but in the past couple of days it's been very, very common," he said.

"People are saying they can't believe they've got allergies this time of year.

"We wouldn't normally see a peak like this in August, let alone the first half of August. If the mild weather continues or the pollen continues, perhaps we will continue to see this trend."

MetService meteorologist Dan Corbett said people would need to "keep the tissues handy" because the spring weather was not set to abate any time soon.

"There has been lots of talk about the pollen recently because of the reasonably mild temperatures," he said. "The pine pollen is out and about, and with the mild air it does stuff to the trees and the buds and it just comes out.

"The wind blows it about and it's only when you get some rain that it washes it out of the atmosphere for a time, until you get another bloom."

Manawatu Standard