A sophisticated device now sits atop the Allergy Clinic of east Tennessee in Johnson City collecting pollen 24/7.
“It’s cool. For one, it’s much more accurate than the old collector we were using,” Stefan Pienkowski, a student immunologist, said. “There’s no one else in northeast Tennessee using this. “It’s an expensive device that’s made in England.”
According to Pienkowski, the collector has a drum covered with a film that moves very slowly, creating a more effective process than the old pollen collector.
“Every hour it moves 2 millimeters and it does that for a full week so at the end you get a 48 millimeter film that you then cut into seven different days, and that’s how you can read the pollen from each individual day,” he explained.
After enough data is collected, Pienkowski then reads it under a microscope.
“You have to line it up and then scan the slides. Stop. Count your pollen grains and then continue and count,” he said describing the procedure.
It’s a tedious process before the pollen grains and mold spores are identified, but once Pienkowsi can hone in on it, this data can be very useful for patients.
“When you know the concentration of pollen in the air, you can say whether that’s a high, medium, low risk of having symptoms from those pollen grains,” he explained. “Right now, weather reports rely on the history of pollen in the area. So you know, historically ragweed is high in the fall and late summer but if you know that ragweed is high at this moment in this week you can tell patients, hey, maybe avoid the outdoors a little bit this week. You’re very allergic to ragweed and it’s very high right now. You get real-time data for patients so you don’t have to rely on historical data.”
In late August and early September, we mainly have a lot of weed pollen, including ragweed, pigweed, and cocklebur versus in the spring when tree pollen is most common.