More insight into pollen allergies in Switzerland.
Bern University of Applied Sciences BFH and University Hospital Zurich (USZ) are launching the free smartphone app Ally Science. It forms part of the largest ever scientific study into pollen allergies to be carried out in Switzerland. The easy-to-use app, available in all four national languages and English, allows allergy sufferers to keep a record of their condition. Users also receive pollen forecasts and an exclusive representation of the current development of allergy symptoms in the different regions. By taking part in the study, they play a vital role in improving early warning systems and therapies for pollen allergy sufferers in the future. The data that is recorded by the app is stored in private accounts on the secure MIDATA IT platform developed by ETH Zurich and the BFH. The users can decide for themselves at any time which researchers they want to grant access to their anonymised data.
Approximately two million people in Switzerland suffer from physical complaints during the pollen season. These include stinging eyes, runny nose, itchy skin, sore throat and breathing difficulties. It is not yet known which regions (cantons, urban and rural areas) exhibit particularly frequent or severe cases of symptoms, or which factors (pollen variety, fine dust, weather, etc.) are influential. The Allergy Station of the Dermatology Clinic of University Hospital Zurich hopes to find answers to these questions through a scientific study spanning every region in Switzerland.
Pollen mapping study Ally Science 2018: a successful start for allergy research via the citizens
At the peak of the 2018 pollen season, the novel Ally Science research platform has been launched: pollen allergy sufferers enter their allergy symptoms via a smartphone app; the anonymized data flow into allergy research. The longterm aim is to establish a platform for environmental epidemiology and early warning systems for pollen allergy sufferers.
The project got off to a successful start:
In the first phase of the project, almost 8’000 people participated and entered more than 24’000 symptom entries over the 89-day study period. The collected anonymized data show that the principle works: There is a good agreement between the plant species specific pollen forecasts of MeteoSwiss and the feedback from the participants. Many participants report several allergies and the respective symptoms. Nose and eye symptoms correlate most directly with pollen load and subside 1-2 days after high-intensity events, while lower respiratory tract symptoms (pollen asthma) persist for several days after pollen flight. This was not unexpected, but shows the quality of the data, even with a still relatively low number of symptom entries. All this shows that the principle of combining environmental and symptom data works and will form the basis for more in-depth evaluations. Intriguingly, data collected before 10am in the morning could fairly well predict overall symptom strength over the whole day – a prerequisite for the development of symptom-based early warning systems.
Building on the findings of the 2018 pilot study, Ally Science is entering a second phase in 2019 with an enhanced app and linking to technologies that measure pollen levels in real time.
People suffering from allergies can already now, with the start of hazel pollen flight, record their symptoms in the Ally Science app. In order to gain new findings in allergy research, the research team continues to rely on the numerous participation of citizens.
Authors: Prof. Peter Schmid-Grendelmeier, Dr. Dominik Steiger, Daniel Maciej Lawniczak
Zurich, February 13, 2019
The aim of research with « Ally Science »
The idea behind the Ally Science app is to create a platform for studies investigating pollen allergies in Switzerland.
In an initial phase of the project, we set out to answer several important questions on this subject. Firstly, we want to establish how many people in Switzerland experience allergic symptoms, which symptoms are the most common, which of these are already being treated and which allergies have been professionally diagnosed in the app users. Another interesting question in this regard is the distribution of allergy-sufferers in Switzerland, in terms of which regions (cantons, town, country) exhibit particularly frequent or severe cases of allergy complaints.
In due course, we will investigate which links can be identified between actual data on pollen count and air pollutant levels and the symptoms reported at the same time. This requires real-time data for pollen and air pollutants. Our partner, MeteoSwiss, will be able to provide this real-time data in the near future.
We hope that pollen allergy sufferers in particular will benefit from these new early warning systems for pollen and pollutants. We also have plans to conduct studies on reactions to indoor allergens, including the prevalent house dust mite allergy, as well as the less common allergies to animal hair and mould spores. In addition, we want to investigate whether people with these allergies would benefit from a higher indoor air quality, achieved using air purifiers.
Prof. Peter Schmid-Grendelmeier, Head of the USZ Allergy Station
Dermatologie on USZ website