For the first time in quite a few years I have been really suffering with hay-fever. The glorious sunshine during peak grass season (which is what causes mine) season has sent grass-pollen counts through the roof. This is coupled with me walking our two dogs during peak pollen times, in the morning and evenings (when the weather is cooler for the dogs) but I have been thinking about whether other factors are at play in my unusually high level of suffering this year. These are my entirely unscientific, layman, musings.

The first thing that I was thinking about was that, like many traditionally office-based people fortunate enough to still be working, I have been working from home. As a result of this, I have spent a lot less time outdoors - not leaving the office to go to meetings or get lunch, walking to and from the car, visiting the gym etc.. One might think “less time outside means less exposure to pollen, surely that is a good thing?”, however I believe that one of the reasons my hay-fever has been less severe is due to spending more time outside. Treating allergies by controlled exposure to the allergen is an established practice, for severe hay-fever it is available on the NHS (called “immunotherapy”). It seems that more regular but brief exposure during the times I mentioned, as the levels increase naturally in the air, could reduce the severity of my immune reaction to the pollen. Or it could just be levels are much worse this year!

The second thing I have been musing about is masks. Very topical during the pandemic and, since I have a cloth mask (3, in fact) to hand, I thought I would try wearing one outside while I walked the dogs to see if it helped reduce my hay-fever symptoms. My theory being it might keep some of the pollen out. It did not, subjectively I seemed to be just as bad as with no mask at all.

During my lunch break on Monday, however, I went outside to cut down a thorny shrub that had overgrown and scratches me frequently, for example when mowing the lawn round its base. Such is the pain it has caused me over the years I started referring to it as “the thorny bastard”. Anyway, having previously cut back the thinner branches all that was left was the thicker trunk and larger branches near the ground for which I choose to use a chainsaw. Since a chainsaw is a powerful tool that would throw of lots of sawdust, I donned some basic PPE which consisted of safety glasses, gloves and a dust-mask. The mask was very effective at keeping out the pollen - I detected no increase in my hay-fever symptoms despite being outside in the pollen filled air for nearly a whole hour.

Reflecting on this observation, it should not have surprised me that the cloth mask was useless at keeping pollen out - the purpose of these masks is primarily to reduce infected persons spreading it, not stop people getting infected. As the intention of these is to slow down droplets being exhaled so they do not travel as far and block the largest ones, it seems logical that pollen in the air remains readily inhaled whilst wearing on. The dust mask, on the other hand, is designed as a protective device to stop particles (albeit relatively large ones) being inhaled - precisely what is wanted to prevent pollen entering my respiratory tract. Again, I should have been little surprised that it was therefore pretty effective at keeping airborne pollen out.

So, yes, those are my musings today. No grand conclusion or profound insight - just reflecting on what would have been fairly obvious has I stopped to think a little more deeply earlier.