Hay fever sufferers can now see the face of their invisible enemy – thanks to these Scanning Electron Microscope images of pollen grains. One in five people in the UK suffer from hay fever every year – but even the worst affected could appreciate the beauty of pollen grains blown up by a million times.
A pollen grain from a birch tree, which is highly allergic. Birch tree pollen is transported by the wind, and so is light with a smooth, non-sticky surface to aid its dispersal over distances of thousands of kilometres:
This gallery features false-colour scanning electron microscope pictures of the causes of hay fever. The number one culprit according to scientists is grass pollen – which close-up looks like a bundle of knobbly peas.
The second biggest cause of hay fever is birch pollen. Steve Gschmeissner, a retired scientific photographer from Bedford who has access to a scanning electron microscope, says: “A single birch catkin can contain five and half million pollen grains. Since a birch tree may carry several thousand catkins, the amount of pollen produced by several thousand trees in whole birch woods boggles the mind.”
Hay fever is worse in the cities where the symptoms are compounded by pollution and more stressful living conditions. And as Britain’s urban population grows, by 2030 it is predicted that the number of hay fever sufferers will more than double. Professor Jean Emberlin, Director of NPARU, said: “As Britain’s urban population grows, with 92.2% expected to live in urban areas by 2030, as many as 32 million people (45% of the population) could suffer from pollen allergies. Currently, around 20-25% of the population have hay fever, about 15 million people.”
Different pollens can cause hay fever at different times of the year. Trees such as silver birch, ash, oak and London plane cause hay fever in early spring. Grasses are the biggest culprits during mid-summer from May to August. Weeds such as nettles and dock as well as mugwort and plantain can trigger hay fever in late summer and autumn.