Pollen allergies in Spain: What you need to know

More than a third of the population in Spain has some allergy to pollen and health issues caused by these outdoor allergens are only set to increase in the coming years. Here's everything you need to know about hay fever in Spain.

Pollen allergies in Spain: What you need to know
According to the experts, the regions most badly affected by pollen in Spain are Andalusia, Castilla La-Mancha, Catalonia, Extremadura, Madrid and Murcia. (Photo by Philippe HUGUEN / AFP)

Allergies affect eight million people in Spain, according to the Spanish Society of Allergology and Clinical Immunology (Seaic) and people are mainly affected during the spring and summer seasons.

High temperatures caused by climate change are increasing the amount of pollen in the air, which in turn is causing the number of pollen-related allergies such as hay fever to rise too.  

According to Dr. Ángel Moral, president of the Seaic Aerobiology Committee, more than a third of the population in Spain has some pollen allergy problem. This could be in the form of an itchy nose, watery eyes, sneezing or even breathing difficulties, which makes it one of the most frequent illnesses in the country.  

Why do allergies increase in spring and summer and where in Spain are they the worst? 

Allergenic pollens vary according to the time of year and the type of vegetation. In general, tree pollen dominates during the winter and early spring, while grasses produce higher levels during spring and summer, according to the University Clinic of Navarra.

Each species has a different pollination period, which can also vary depending on the region. The level of grass pollen, for example, lasts until August in the north of the peninsula. On the other hand, on the Mediterranean coast, it lasts until the end of October.

Olive pollen, the other main species in May, is almost non-existent in the northern provinces, but high in the south and the Mediterranean.

According to the experts, the regions most badly affected by pollen in Spain are Andalusia, Castilla La-Mancha, Catalonia, Extremadura, Madrid and Murcia.  If you want a live update of pollen levels in your part of Spain, click here

What types of plants and pollen are people allergic to in Spain? 

The two most important pollens these days are olive and grass, according to Dr. Moral. “There are more people allergic to grasses in Spain than in practically the whole world,” he explained.

Of the eight million people with allergies in Spain, seven million are allergic to grasses, olive trees, arizonica, shade banana, salsola and parietaria. 

Many people are also allergic to the seeds from plane trees, which can often cause sneezing and coughing fits. Experts suggest that plane trees, along with other species of trees, are one of the main sources of volatile compounds. 

Barcelona Zoo states that today, plane trees are the most commonly planted tree in the cities and gardens throughout the Spanish Mediterranean region. They are typically planted in cities because of their ability to trap pollution particles on their leaves and bark.

hay fever

Avoid spending a lot of time outside on days when the pollen count is particularly high in your area of Spain. Photo: Public Domain

Pollen season is set to get longer and the number of people suffering from allergies to increase

New research suggests that the pollen season is getting longer and longer each year due to climate change.

The increase in carbon dioxide is also fuelling photosynthesis, so plants may grow larger and produce even more pollen. Extensive research over the past decade has shown that airborne pollen has increased not just in Spain, but all over the world.

Seaic believes that because of this, the number of hayfever sufferers is set to increase too.

For example, in Madrid, the level of pollen in the air has doubled in the last 25 years. In 1995, an average of 25,000 grains per cubic meter was collected while the average for the year 2020 was more than 60,000, according to data collected by the Palinocam Network.

What to do in Spain if you suffer from hay fever?

According to the Department of Allergology of the University Clinic of Navarra symptoms can be treated with oral or topical antihistamines. They are effective in reducing itching, sneezing and runny nose. Nasal decongestants are also effective and often serve to prevent the onset of symptoms.

However, they also suggest limiting your exposure to pollen, which can prove difficult. Suggestions from health clinics on limiting exposure include:

  •  Avoiding spending a lot of time outside on days when the pollen count is particularly high.  
  • Avoiding the times between 5am and 10am and 7pm to 10pm when pollen levels are at their highest.  
  • Keeping your windows up when driving.  
  • Not drying your clothes outside when the pollen counts are high as grains can stick your clothing. 
  • Showering when coming in from outside. 

If you want to see a allergist (alergólogo/a in Spanish), this map by the Spanish Society of Allergology should direct you to your closest specialist.

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UV Index: Where in Spain you have to take extra care with sun exposure

We all know that too much sun can cause health problems, but there are particular places in Spain where the UV Index is higher than others and you need to be particularly careful. Read on to find out where.

UV Index: Where in Spain you have to take extra care with sun exposure

Spaniards and indeed foreign residents in Spain spend a lot of time in the sun, particularly at the beach in summer, and sunbathing is a popular pastime.

While it’s obviously not a good idea to be sunbathing during the hottest part of the day anywhere in Spain, there are some places that are worse than others.

When the sun shines, it emits radiation and one of the most dangerous is ultraviolet radiation. While ultraviolet radiation is not harmful in low doses, it can cause skin damage after long and intense exposure.

The UV Index measures the amount of ultraviolet radiation that reaches the earth’s surface and alerts people to the risk that the sun poses to our health on a daily basis.

The Canary Islands have the highest UV Index out of all the regions in Spain, meaning that if you live there or are thinking of going on holiday there, you should take extra precautions in the sun.

A UV Index level of 8 to 10, as well as anything above 10 is considered to be very high and extremely dangerous.

The Canary Islands consistently record UV Index levels 2 or 3 points above the rest of Spain and in some parts of the day up to four points above.

UV Index levels change throughout the day and reach their highest from about 1pm – 4pm, when you have to take extra care.

For example, on Friday August 12th the UV Index for the hottest part of the day in most of mainland Spain hovers around 7-9, whereas in the Canary Islands it reaches 11-13.

According to Canarian dermatologist Dr. Paula Aguayo, one in five canaries could be at risk from skin cancer throughout their lives due to inadequate sun protection.  

She recommends that people in the Canary Islands avoid the sun between midday and 6pm, use broad-spectrum sunscreens which protect against ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B radiation and a sunscreen with a factor not lower than 30. “ In fact, it is preferable to use factor 50,” she says.

The regions in Spain that typically have the least amount of UV are located along the northern coast, places such as Galicia, Cantabria, Asturias and the Basque Country.

When the UV Index is anywhere from 6 upwards, experts recommend:

  • Avoiding direct sun exposure during the hottest part of the day and always keeping to the shade.
  • Wearing sunglasses with adequate UV protection as well as a hat.
  • Covering your skin and applying sunscreen with a high factor to the parts that are exposed. It is recommended to put cream on in the house before you go out into the sun and to always reapply it after swimming, even if it’s a waterproof sunscreen.
  • Drinking lots of water – In the sun and heat, the skin becomes dehydrated and this aggravates skin aging caused by ultraviolet rays.

Be sun safe even on cloudy days

The UV Index is usually lower on cloudy days, but even so, solar radiation can penetrate through the clouds.  According to scientists, even if the sky is completely covered, 40 percent of the sun’s radiation can still reach earth, so even if it doesn’t feel so hot, you still need to remember your sun protection.

Take extra care in the mountains  

Those heading to the mountains instead of the coast this summer should take extra care from the sun as the UV Index can reach its highest in places of high altitude and you risk being exposed to more radiation.

Mount Teide on the Canary Island of Tenerife and the highest mountain in Spain is one of the worst places for getting sunburnt. Up here, in summer there are around 12 hours of sun a day.