20. February 2024

Berlin, 20 February 2024 – Climate change poses a challenge to health protection worldwide. The impact can no longer be ignored. This can be seen, for example, in the fact that more thermophilic, non-native plant species with allergenic or potentially allergenic pollen are thriving in our latitudes. The pollen season starts earlier – and the pollen season as a whole lasts longer.

Allergic rhinoconjunctivitis caused by pollen is the most common allergic disease in Europe. More than 10 million adults and around 1.5 million children and adolescents in Germany suffer from seasonal symptoms during the pollen season. In addition, there is also an as yet unknown number of people who suffer from bronchial asthma triggered by pollen. But all those affected also suffer from another symptom – a reduced quality of life due to their allergy. Apart from the personal constraints for those affected, the widespread affliction of hay fever has an impact on society as a whole: Reduced performance due to allergies should not be underestimated. The consequences of hay fever alone cause one million working days of absence every year throughout Germany. Every tenth absence due to illness in Germany can be attributed to an allergy. In Germany alone, 30,000 young people abandon their education due to allergies. The avoidable costs of reduced production due to untreated allergies are estimated at around 100 billion euros across Europe. New findings and groundbreaking results in allergy research now offer hope.

Pollen spread in Germany 2023 in review

The pollen season in Germany follows a recurring rhythm in the temporal occurrence of the individual pollen types. It starts each year with the pollen shedding of the widespread native hazel and the as yet rarely planted alder hybrid purple alder, which always occurs a few weeks ahead of that of the native alder. This is gradually followed by the shedding of other tree pollen, such as poplar, birch, ash or pine, which is then followed in early summer by grass pollen, which is then succeeded by pollen from herbaceous plants such as mugwort and ragweed at the end of the season [1]. Major changes from year to year in the intensity (amount of pollen) and/or period of pollen shedding are typically associated primarily with tree pollen.

The exceptionally early and intense start to the pollen season in 2023 was particularly noticeable. In some cases, high levels of hazel pollen plagued allergy sufferers right at the start of the year and therefore in the middle of winter. Ultimately, it was also the second most severe hazel pollen season in Germany since 2001. In contrast, birch pollen dispersion was less frequent than average in 2023 and also significantly less than in 2022. As far as grasses are concerned, the series of high pollen counts that began in 2020 continued in 2023, with 2022 being the most severe and 2023 the second most severe grass pollen year in Germany since 2001. There was less mugwort pollen dispersion in 2023 than the long-term average and it also occurred less frequently than in 2022. As in previous years, there was hardly any change in the amount of ragweed pollen measured in 2023.

2024 pollen season – status quo

In Germany, it has become increasingly common in recent years for the first pollen of the new pollen season to no longer “wait” for the start of the new year, but to already be airborne around Christmas time of the old year. For example, hazel and alder pollen (purple alder) heralded the start of this year’s season in large parts of the country as early as December of the previous year. However, abundant rainfall and a subsequent onset of winter delayed heavier pollen counts and high loads of hazel and alder pollen until the end of January/beginning of February. This means that the pollen season in 2024 did not start as early or as intensely as in the previous year. The very mild February so far led to a peak bloom of hazel and alder and the airborne spread of numerous other pollen species, such as yew, poplar and elm.

A forecast for the pollen year 2024 would be tantamount to looking into the famed crystal ball. However, following the trend, it is possible that birch, for example, will flower more strongly again in 2024 after its weak performance in the previous year. However, a high pollen count can only occur under suitable pollen dispersal conditions during the flowering period. As it is almost impossible to make a reliable weather forecast over such a long period of time, it is not yet possible to predict the pollen count in several weeks or even months. Therefore, those affected are advised to follow the current weekly pollen forecast of the German Pollen Information Service Foundation (PID) for Germany [2] or the daily pollen count forecast of the German Weather Service [3].

Pollen count – the PID forecast for Germany and Berlin

In Germany, the concentration of pollen in the outdoor air has been monitored for over 40 years by the measuring stations in the network of the German Pollen Information Service Foundation (PID). The foundation supports pollen allergy sufferers and doctors with pollen forecasts and information throughout the pollen season, making an important contribution to allergy prevention in the country. For decades, some of the measurement data obtained by the PID has formed one of the bases for the German Weather Service’s (DWD) daily graphical pollen count forecast for eight allergy-relevant pollen types, the so-called Pollen Danger Index [3].

In addition, the PID has been compiling and publishing the weekly pollen forecast for Germany since 2016, which is also based on the measured pollen data from the pollen stations in the PID network [4]. The forecast is characterised by the extensive spectrum of pollen types discussed in text form, which covers practically all airborne pollen types present in significant quantities during a pollen season. The background to this is to provide access to pollen information on pollen types that are not included in the German Weather Service (DWD) forecast, but which can also trigger allergies in the population (albeit to a lesser extent). These include, for example, allergies to plane tree pollen or cypress pollen. A review of the airborne pollen situation of the previous days and a tabular list of the current airborne pollen, including the trend for the next seven days, round off the content of the forecast. The weekly pollen forecast is available free of charge via the PID website https://www.pollenstiftung.de/ under “Current weekly pollen forecast” [2], via the social media channels @pollenstiftung and via newsletter. The content of the forecast may be used or redistributed in full or in part, provided the source is acknowledged.

The PID is based in Berlin and therefore publishes its own weekly pollen count forecast specifically for the capital. It provides allergy sufferers and other interested parties with information in text form about what is happening in the region. In addition to the “classic”, allergologically most significant pollen types, the Berlin forecast also includes other pollen types currently in the air that can also lead to allergy symptoms in some people, such as the pollen of the well-known plane trees or the invasive tree of heaven. Other types of pollen, such as pine pollen, which is relatively insignificant from an allergological point of view, on the other hand, attract a lot of attention and often raise questions about the origin of the dust, mainly due to their quantity and visibility [5]. As Berlin and the surrounding area are predominantly forested with pine trees and pine pollen is one of the dominant airborne pollen types in this region, it is also covered in the forecast. With the Berlin forecast of the PID, we hope to contribute to a better supply of pollen information for the local population. The PID’s weekly pollen forecast for Berlin is available free of charge via the PID website https://www.pollenstiftung.de/ under “Pollen Forecast” > “Pollen Monitoring Stations in Germany” > “Berlin” [6].

Mould spores – the PID forecast for Germany

The airborne spores of some mould genera are considered allergologically significant and cause allergy symptoms and/or allergic asthma in a small percentage of the population. Among the better-known allergy triggers are the spores of Alternaria and Cladosporium [7], which frequently appear in the outdoor air during the summer [8]. A mould forecast can therefore be of similar benefit to those affected as the classic pollen count forecast is to pollen allergy sufferers.

In Germany, the PID records not only the pollen count but also the spore count of Alternaria, Cladosporium, Epicoccum and Pleospora. Based on this, the PID developed a spore count forecast, which is linked to the foundation’s own weekly pollen forecast [2] and closes a coverage gap in Germany. In this way, those affected can find information on the expected exposure to some important types of mould. It would be desirable to include other mould genera such as Aspergillus or Fusarium in the forecast. However, the PID does not have any measurement data on this due to a lack of financial resources.

Allergy-friendly urban living and planting – What to do?

Allergies are the most common chronic diseases worldwide. Climate change and the resulting longer pollen season also play a role here. In addition, the increase in air pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter associated with climate change can change the composition of pollen and make it more aggressive. In the immediate vicinity of roads, CO2 emissions from combustion engines act as an amplifier: The pollen count increases in the immediate vicinity of busy roads. This is proven by experiments on ragweed and timothy-grass. There are indications that climate change and air pollutants act as plant stressors and change the allergenic potential.  Pollen from urban areas has a higher allergen content per pollen. This means that urban planning now more than ever requires a focussed allergological approach. “The allergenic potential must be given much greater consideration in urban greening,” demands Professor Torsten Zuberbier – Chairman of the ECARF Foundation. From a health and economic point of view, it does not make sense to continue planting trees to whose pollen people in Germany are allergic. “It is absolutely sensible to have plenty of vegetation in the city. However, heavy pollen emitters such as birch trees should be avoided at all costs,” Zuberbier continues.

Especially in urban areas, air purifiers that filter not only pollen but also particulate matter are a helpful aid for people with allergies. Portable air purifiers are now available, which are worn around the neck like a collar and offer effective protection against allergens. Modern apps are also available: They help people with respiratory allergies to adjust their medication in good time and people with food or contact allergies to detect their allergens promptly using modern photo technology on packaging.

Allergies are now very easy to treat, and in most cases modern medication can be used to eliminate symptoms. In addition, it is possible to integrate strategies not based on pharmaceuticals into the treatment concept. And it is advisable to look out for the ECARF Seal of Quality for Allergy-Friendliness, which can only be found on products and services if they have been proven to improve the quality of life of people with allergies.

Future pilot project – learning about allergies in nurseries and schools

“It is one of my greatest wishes to support Berlin on its way to becoming an allergy-friendly capital,” says Torsten Zuberbier. “Initiatives by my foundation are working tirelessly to educate children and young people in nurseries and schools about allergies. There should no longer be any children who perform less well at school because of untreated hay fever or who are unable to take part in sports lessons because of untreated asthma,” Zuberbier continues.

The foundation’s aim is to bring educational and teaching materials to all Berlin schools and thereby establish knowledge about allergies as well as emergency situations and first aid measures in a playful way. Up to 40 percent of schoolchildren suffer from an allergy, with allergic rhinitis, asthma, neurodermatitis and food allergies being the most common, resulting in considerable restrictions in everyday life. Untreated food allergies can be fatal – it is estimated that around 15 percent of all food allergy reactions or anaphylaxes occur at school. The life-saving moment in the event of allergic shock is the use of adrenaline, available in an auto-injector for adults and children. “We are calling for an adrenaline emergency kit in all public places and facilities, such as swimming pools or schools, for example,” says Torsten Zuberbier. “We are currently preparing a position paper for a national strategy on the availability of adrenaline autoinjectors similar to the distribution of emergency defibrillators and hope to receive support from politicians to drive this forward.” The goal is to improve medical care for people at risk of anaphylaxis in Germany.

Meanwhile, the ECARF Foundation has developed comprehensive concepts for allergy-friendly living and housing – ideally, they should already be taken into account when planning or furnishing a building.

Cat hair allergy – non-medicinal treatment options

According to a standardised market research survey, there were over 15 million cats in Germany in 2021. As the number of cats in households continues to rise, so does sensitisation to them. Common symptoms include allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis through to asthmatic complaints or skin irritation, itchy skin, even on the palate. Studies show that existing sensitisation increases the risk of developing asthma.

However, there are also patients who, despite sensitisation, achieve some form of tolerance when living with their cat. However, a cat allergy can also develop without those affected even owning a cat. What they all have in common, however, is that they have obviously come into contact with cat allergens.

Allergens are proteins, the most common sources of which are pollen in the air. But also in dust mites, their excrements or in animal hair. To date, eight different cat allergens are known. Of these, Fel d 1 (Felis domesticus) is the most common and important biomarker – it is the most likely to trigger an allergy and is responsible for the disease in up to 95 percent of all cat allergy sufferers.

“The recent findings about the iron utilisation disorder in combination with the well-known farm effect against allergies (hygiene theory) have led to our own efforts to develop a lozenge,” says Professor Karl-Christian Bergmann, clinical study director at ECARF. “As a dietetic food, it has proven effective both in a double-blind placebo-controlled study for pollen allergy and in studies in our allergen exposure chamber on house dust mite rhinitis. The effectiveness of this dietetic concept resulted in highly significant clinical improvements. The results were also convincing in a subsequent openlabel pilot study in patients with allergic rhinitis to cat allergens,” continues Karl-Christian Bergmann. The test involved the administration of holoBLG lozenges for the purpose of demonstrating the clinical efficacy of allergen non-specific targeted micronutrition in people with cat allergy: A 40% reduction in symptoms during allergen provocation was already evident after three months. Dietetic measures can therefore correct an existing cat allergy [9, 10, 11].

Grass pollen allergy – unexpected bacteria

In a remarkable controlled study, the benefit of a probiotic (a substance containing lactic acid bacteria to strengthen the intestinal flora) in the treatment of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis caused by grass pollen was investigated.

In this medically supervised study, subjects were exposed to grass pollen in the ECARF allergen exposure chamber using a unique procedure. The dietary supplement was taken for three weeks between two sessions in the exposure chamber. Previous studies have already shown positive effects of probiotics (selected bacterial strains) on the symptoms of grass pollen allergy. “Intestinal bacteria can therefore have a more positive effect on people with allergies than was thought a few decades ago,” says Professor Karl-Christian Bergmann – ECARF Clinical Study Director [12, 13, 14].

Pollen allergy – allergy-friendly apples are coming

In future, people with an apple allergy will also be able to enjoy apples without any worries: Two allergy-friendly apple varieties have been developed over several years of research. In collaboration with the Züchtungsinitiative Niederelbe (ZIN), scientists from the Charité University Hospital in Berlin, ECARF Institute GmbH, Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have tested two new apple varieties with an extremely low allergen content on test subjects using oral provocation in a standardised procedure. Both varieties, which do not yet have a trade name, could be eaten by apple allergy sufferers without any problems.

The project was funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture in a programme for innovation in the German Innovation Partnership on Agriculture (DIP). Both apple varieties were awarded the ECARF Seal of Quality for Allergy-Friendliness.

Apples contain several allergens and can trigger allergic symptoms in the mouth within just a few minutes when eaten. The allergenicity of apples is influenced by several factors. This includes the variety, their cultivation, ripening and also the storage conditions after the harvest. The immune response confuses the allergens from birch pollen and apples, which are very similar. This is why a birch pollen allergy is often followed by the development of an allergy to apples. In Germany, over seven million people have developed specific antibodies against the main allergen in apples (Mal d 1). Almost four million of them exhibit a severe reaction: oral allergy syndrome. To date, there is no effective drug therapy for this allergy. Apple allergy sufferers must therefore avoid apples altogether or cook or bake the apples before consumption. The two apple varieties tested by ECARF will therefore bring great relief to millions of people in Germany. [15, 16, 17].

[1] https://www.pollenstiftung.de/pollenvorhersage/pollenflugkalender.html

[2] https://www.pollenstiftung.de/pollenvorhersage/wochenprognose.html

[3] https://www.dwd.de/DE/leistungen/gefahrenindizespollen/gefahrenindexpollen.html

[4] Werchan B, Werchan M, Röseler S, Bergmann KC. The weekly pollen forecast by the German Pollen Information Service Foundation (PID); 2021; 44:920-926. https://doi.org/10.5414/ALX02295

[5]  https://www.pollenstiftung.de/news/eintrag/2017-05-22-keine-angst-vor-dem-gelben-staub.html

[6]      https://www.pollenstiftung.de/pollenvorhersage/pollenmessstationen-in-deutschland/berlin.html

[7]       Haftenberger M, Laußmann D, Ellert U, Kalcklösch M, Langen U, Schlaud M, Schmitz R, Thamm M: Prevalence of sensitisation to aeraoallergens and food allergens. Bundesgesundheitsblatt. 2013; 56:687–697. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s00103-012-1658-1.pdf

[8] AWMF guideline for the medical clinical diagnostics of indoor mould exposure – Update 2023 AWMF register no. 161/001, Ch. 4.4.2 Outdoor air, Fig. 5, p.128. https://register.awmf.org/assets/guidelines/161-001l_S2k_Medizinisch-klinische-Diagnostik-bei-Schimmelpilzexposition-in-Innenraeumen_2023-10.pdf

[9] Bergmann KC, Raab J, Graessel A, Zwingers T, Becker S, Kugler S, Zuberbier T, Roth-Walter F, Kramer MF, Jensen-Jarolim E. The holo beta-lactoglobulin lozenge reduces symptoms in cat allergy-Evaluation in an allergen exposure chamber and by titrated nasal allergen challenge. Clin Transl Allergy. 2023 Jul;13(7):e12274.

[10] Bergmann KC, Krause L, Hiller J, Becker S, Kugler S, Tapparo M, Pfaar O, Zuberbier T, Kramer MF, Guethoff S, Graessel A. First evaluation of a symbiotic food supplement in an allergen exposure chamber in birch pollen allergic patients. World Allergy Organ J. 2020 Dec 18;14(1):100494.

[11] Jensen-Jarolim E, Jensen SA, Bergmann KC. Allergy to the cat – from diagnosis to management. Allergo J Int 2023;32:130-7 https://doi.org/10.1007/s40629-023-00254-9

[12] Dissanayaka DMS, Jayasena V, Rainey-Smith SR et al..The Role of Diet and Gut Microbiota in Alzheimer’s Disease. Nutrients. 2024 Jan 31;16(3):412

[13] Nohesara S, Abdolmaleky HM, Thiagalingam S, Zhou JR. Gut microbiota defined epigenomes of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases reveal novel targets for therapy. Epigenomics. 2024 Jan;16(1):57-77

[14] Bergmann KC, Raab J, Graessel A, Zwingers T, Becker S, Kugler S et al. The holoBLG lozenge reduces symptoms in cat allergy – evaluation in an allergen exposure chamber and by titrated nasal allergen challenge. Clinical Translational Allergy 2023, in press

[15] Romer E, Chebib S, Bergmann KC, Plate K, Becker S, Ludwig C, Meng C, Fischer T, Dierend W, Schwab W. Tiered approach for the identification of Mal d 1 reduced, well tolerated apple genotypes. Sci Rep. 2020 Jun 4;10(1):9144

[16] Bergmann KC, Zuberbier J, Zuberbier T, Zapp J, Hennebrüder W (2020) Apple Allergy – Development of Tolerance Through Regular Consumption of Low-Allergen Apples. An Observational Study. Erwerbs-Obstbau 62:267–273

[17] Becker S, Becker S, Chebib S, Schwab W, Dierend W, Zuberbier T, Bergmann KC. Testing Apples for Allergenicity Erwerbs-Obstbau 2021; 63: 409-415

Background information

About ECARF Foundation

The ECARF Foundation has been certifying products and services with the ECARF Seal of Quality, the only Europe-wide certificate for allergy-friendly products and services, on the basis of scientific quality criteria since 2006. Furthermore, the foundation specifically supports allergological research at a European level as well as initiatives to improve the medical treatment of allergic diseases and establishes educational campaigns on the subject of allergies for children, young people, teachers and educators. ecarf.org

About ECARF Institute GmbH

ECARF Institute GmbH is a wholly owned subsidiary of the ECARF Foundation and is tasked with implementing the Foundation’s objectives. It operates the allergen exposure chamber, conducts scientific studies and tests products and services for allergy-friendliness for certification with the ECARF Seal of Quality. ecarf-institute.org

About PID

The non-profit foundation German Pollen Information Service (PID) has been operating the only nationwide measurement network of uniform pollen traps for the detection of airborne allergenic pollen since 1983, using a measurement method that has been standardised throughout Europe since 2019 (EN 16868:2019). The PID thus chronologically documents the type and concentration of allergenic pollen from trees, grasses and herbaceous plants in Germany. The measured pollen data serve, among other things, as the basis for the nationwide pollen forecasts of the PID and the German Weather Service. pollenstiftung.de

Press contact

Stefanie Link, Head of Communication – ECARF

Robert-Koch-Platz 7, 10115 Berlin

T.:  +49 (0)30 857 48 94 25 / M.: +49 151 22 78 08 11