O’Reilly’s spring allergy survival kit includes the
usual stuff — nasal sprays, allergy pills and a box of
tissues. This season, she’s added a new weapon to her
line of defense: an app on her smartphone.
waking up one recent morning with a stuffy nose and
stinging eyes, she downloaded the WebMD Allergy app,
which tracks pollen levels in the air.
there’s a high level, I want to wake up knowing
that," said O’Reilly, of Minneapolis.
prolonged winter delayed the start of allergy season,
which typically begins in March. While that gave allergy
sufferers some relief, allergists say their offices now
are bustling as allergy season kicks into high gear.
apps are just starting to bloom. Many of them have been
developed in the last year, said social media expert
Christopher Lower, who contends that the new apps are a
spinoff of the wildly popular weather apps.
apps are beginning to change the way some people manage
their seasonal allergies, which afflict up to 25 percent
of the population. But some allergists are skeptical
about the apps’ usefulness.
features of the often-free allergy apps include a daily
forecast of the pollen levels in your area and a
description of the predominant allergens in the air —
tree pollen, grass, mold and ragweed, to name a few.
apps also allow users to log their symptoms and
medications. For example, Zyrtec makes an AllergyCast
app with a "Today I feel" dial that allows
users to choose from "ugh" to
"great." It also features a
"products" tab that lists various medications,
made by Zyrtec, of course.
Ron Reilkoff, a pulmonologist and assistant professor at
the University of Minnesota, said he sees benefits in
using apps to measure air quality.
these allergies depend on the environment," he
said, "so if you can be forewarned and be prepared
that it’s going to be a bad day … I think it’s
Julia Montejo, an allergist with Fairview Clinics,
agreed. She said the apps can be particularly helpful
for people who don’t recognize their symptoms.
think they’re useful if they can help guide your
therapy," she said. "For some people, if they
have runny noses and sneezes, and they’re wondering if
they have a cold or an allergy, they can probably figure
out that it’s an allergy if they see pollen counts. So
then they’ll say, ‘Oh, today is a Claritin day, not
a Sudafed day.’"
Kennedy of Minneapolis has been using an allergy app for
several months. "I find it incredibly useful,"
she said. "I’d rather know what I’m up against
app sends her special alerts when pollen levels are
especially high. "I take an allergy pill every day
as soon as I start getting these alerts," she said.
not everyone is so eager to welcome the apps. At the
Allina Medical Clinic in Woodbury, Minn., Dr. Pramod
Kelkar said that many factors beside pollen levels
kind of intellectually satisfying to look at the apps
and look at the pollen count," he said, but,
"people should look at their body and their
symptoms rather than looking at the apps."
Philip Halverson questioned the tool’s usefulness as
well. "I wonder about the clinical utility of
pollen counts," he said. People with allergies who
are seeing doctors already are treating their symptoms.
"If it’s a seasonal allergy, we typically have a
plan," he said. "So, really, the treatment is
pretty much symptom-based."
apps aren’t on most people’s radar yet, said Lower,
co-owner of Sterling Cross Communications in Maple
Grove, Minn., but they’re a natural outgrowth of
mainstream apps. He cited a recent Pew Research Center
report on smartphone apps, which found that
weather-related apps top the list of mobile downloads.
"That’s typically where most of these (allergy)
apps came out of — they’re gaining mass information
from weather sites," he said.
had a weather app, but was looking for more information
about pollen. So, she turned to what’s become a
reliable source: her smartphone. She tweeted: "I
wish weather apps had an allergy component. Is there a
seasonal allergy app?" She instantly received a
half dozen responses on Twitter.
chimed in, tweeting: "The Weather Channel App for
iPhone does. There are even alerts!"
ultimately chose the WebMD Allergy app. It has bar
graphs showing pollen levels, ranging from none to low
to moderate to high and finally severe. "It’s
almost like a ‘threat level green,’ ‘threat level
orange’ situation," she said, laughing. "I
liked it right away."