Study of Spring Tree Pollen, Weather, and Health Effects


Does Pollen in the Atmosphere

Affect How We Feel?



Students will describe the relationships between daily pollen levels, weather, and their own (or classmates) allergy or asthma symptoms.


Students will record their own symptoms of allergies or asthma every day for two to four weeks. They will also keep a record of daily weather measurements and look-up daily pollen counts in the local paper. At they end of the unit, students will graph the results of their data collection.



Approximately 25% of the population suffer from allergies including hay fever and asthma. Pollen and spores are important triggers of these allergies. Pollen is part of the reproductive cycle in flowering plants. Pollen is dispersed by wind or carried by insects. Insect-pollinated flowers usually have large, showy, and brightly-colored petals, which attract insects. In wind-pollinated plants, the flowers are very small and inconspicuous. They produced enormous quantities of lightweight pollen that is readily dispersed by the atmosphere. It is these wind-pollinated plants that are the cause of suffering for millions of people.


Springtime is one of the worst pollen seasons in the Tulsa area for allergy sufferers. Most of the native trees as well as many of the ornamental trees are wind-pollinated and many of the pollen types are allergenic. For many trees the small inconspicuous flowers are produced just before the leaves develop from the buds and go unnoticed by most people. Weather has significant effects on pollen release. The most pollen will be released on warm, dry, sunny, and windy days. Cold temperature and high humidity delay pollen release, and rainfall washes the pollen out of the air. Allergy symptoms may improve on these days.

 I suggest that you plan this exercise for the period after spring break. Tree pollen levels typically peak from late March through most of April. The data collection should continue for a minimum of two weeks (data collected during ten school days). If time permits and student interest level is high, you can continue for four weeks (20 days of data). This would include a fair amount of the tree pollen season.

 Another good time for this exercise is soon after school begins. In September ragweed pollen levels begin to increase early in the month and usually peak around September 10. The levels drop slowly and are often still high in early October.

 The major purpose of this activity is for students to increase their awareness of several topics: (1) pollen is part of the reproductive cycle of flowering plant; (2) pollen (along with fungal spores) is present in the air and can affect our health; (3) the weather has an influence on the pollen level in the atmosphere.


  1. Computer with internet connection to check meteorological data
  2. Newspaper to check for pollen count
  3. Individual allergy/asthma symptom score sheets
  4. Peak Flow Meters (optional)


  1. Before presenting this exercise, have students review the parts of a flower and how pollen is involved in the formation of seeds. Consider presenting this exercise immediately after the exercise entitled "What’s in the air." It is also possible that the two exercises can be integrated.
  2. Also, have students review how the lungs function. Explain how asthma interferes with normal breathing and how other allergy symptoms cause sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes. Review how to measure breathing with a peak flow meter. It is possible to integrate this exercise with the one entitled "Asthma – You or Someone Your know."
  3. Each morning use the computer to check the meteorological data for the previous day. Have the students record the noon time temperature, the noon time relative humidity, average wind speed, and the amount of rainfall.
  4. Have one or more students check the morning paper for the pollen count. Explain to the students that the pollen count in the paper is for two days earlier. The data that is reported to the news media is for the previous day, but it does not appear in the newspaper until the morning after it is reported, so it is actually two days old. Be sure that the students record the pollen data for the correct date on their charts. In the Tulsa World the pollen count is usually broken down into two categories, molds and other. The other is the total level of pollen. This is what the students should be recording. You should point out to the students that the mold levels are almost always much higher than pollen.
  5. Have the students fill out their symptom scores and have them record their peak flow measurements. Repeat measurements each day for two to four weeks.
  6. At the end of the experiment students can make graphs from the data. Work with the students to see any connections between symptoms and high pollen counts, or between the pollen counts and the weather.
  7. Symptom diary is attached in Word format.