New study finds hay fever symptoms are worse for people in ‘urban areas’

Research was carried out by scientists at the University of Manchester over a five-year period.

Emily Sergeant Emily Sergeant - 24th February 2023

A new study has found that people living in ‘urban areas’ are likely to experience more severe hay fever symptoms than those living elsewhere.

The results from the first-ever study carried out to compare pollution levels with the severity and duration of real-time hay fever symptoms by researchers at the University of Manchester (UoM) has revealed that residents in city centres and built-up towns – referred to as ‘urban areas’ – reported “significantly worse” symptoms of seasonal allergies.

The UoM research team studied a whopping 36,145 symptom reports submitted by more than 700 suffering Brits over a five-year period from 2016 to 2020.

They used a citizen science application called Britain Breathing for their research.

The study – which has been published in Scientific Reports this week – compares self-reported allergy symptoms in urban and rural locations, and particularly focuses on the severity of common hay fever symptoms.

New study finds hay fever symptoms are worse for people in ‘urban areas’ / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

They found that reports of a runny nose, sore eyes, and wheezy breathing were roughly twice as severe for those in urban areas, than they were for those in rural ones across all years studied.

The study combined pollution measurements and pollen and meteorological data taken from the UK Met Office with the real-time geo-positioned reports to, according to UoM, “examine the relationship between symptom severity and air quality”.


The analysis shows that urban areas record “significantly higher symptom severity” and “longer symptom duration” for all years studied, except 2017, whereas rural areas did not record this in any of the study years.

Researchers claim that symptom severity was “significantly correlated with ozone levels”, as ozone has previously been linked to respiratory problems.

Research was carried out over a five-year period / Credit: PxHere

“The worldwide prevalence of allergic respiratory disease has risen considerably in recent years,” explained Immunologist Professor Sheena Cruickshank – who is one of the authors of the study.


“However, hay fever affects people differently and can change over a lifetime, and data is lacking on how environmental factors may influence this.

“This study provides evidence that urban surroundings may exacerbate hay fever and asthma symptoms. It also provides a broader picture of chronic health issues experienced by hay fever and asthma sufferers, as opposed to only observing those with more acute and/or problematic reactions.

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“These differences in allergy symptoms may be due to variation in the levels of pollutants, pollen counts and seasonality across land-use types.”

Featured Image – Mojca J (via Pexels)