British allergy sufferers are to turn citizen scientists in a bid to decode the poorly understood world of seasonal allergies thanks to a free new app.
The app – called #BritainBreathing – a collaboration between the Royal Society of Biology, the British Society for Immunology, and The University of Manchester, aims to help the one in four people in the UK who suffer from seasonal allergies like hay fever and asthma.
Experts say the triggers are often poorly understood and little is known about why the incidence of these allergies is increasing.
#BritainBreathing is the first nationwide project aiming to better understand where and when allergy symptoms are occurring, what exacerbates them and why they’re on the rise. It launches on Android today.
By using the #BritainBreathing app, sufferers will be able to track allergy symptoms they record about their eyes, nose and breathing, over time. This might help people to start thinking about what might be triggering their allergies.
Dr Sheena Cruickshank, from The University of Manchester and British Society for Immunology, said: “Seasonal allergies are increasing in the West but we don’t know what is driving this.
“It could be pollution, super pollens, increased cleanliness, or a combination of factors.
“What has been missing to answer this question is wide scale human data about what is really happening.
“Because detailed information on pollen and pollution is available, we want to map Britain Breathing data onto that and perhaps come closer to understanding what really drives allergies, on both an individual and a national level.”
The #BritainBreathing app will allow the public to record their allergy symptoms in a simple and straightforward way and then anonymously share that data with researchers.
This large open data set, which will also capture information on timing and location, can then be combined with other publicly available data, such as weather, pollen or pollution statistics, to build a better understanding of allergies and their triggers.
From these data, scientists can build a clearer picture of the pattern and frequency of allergy incidence across the UK.
The researchers will also create up-to-date visualisations of the national crowd data, for example maps of where particular allergy symptoms are most frequently reported on any given day, so that users can compare their experience to others in their region and beyond.
Jon Kudlick, director of communications at the Royal Society of Biology said:
“This is a ground breaking project as it will give users the chance to record and monitor the frequency of their own allergy symptoms, as well as then adding their experiences to the wider data set.
“Does air pollution add to the misery of those suffering with hay fever? Are people having more asthmatic symptoms in Manchester than in London, and if so why? These are the kind of questions we hope to help answer.”
“This is the Society’s fourth citizen science project. The Starling Survey, Flying Ant Survey and House Spider Survey have received tens of thousands of records over four years, and shown how effective people power can be in helping researchers to find answers to difficult questions.”