Could We Crowdsource Seasonal Allergy Relief?

How my battle with symptoms led me to build hayfever.io.

It’s a Saturday morning and I’m sitting at my son’s swim meet with tears flowing intermittently from red, bloodshot eyes. Other parents are giving me concerned looks, probably wondering if I’m having some strange emotional reaction to my son swimming a 25 yard freestyle. I must look like I had a really rough 24 hours.

Actually I’m just the victim of my own stupid self experimentation. Because a few days ago I had my seasonal allergies under control. My symptoms came on strong about 4 weeks ago. It started with the telltale itchy throat at night. Then it moved to sneezing and congestion. I tried to fight back with Allegra, but it wasn’t enough. After a couple weeks, I doubled down with Flonase and eventually found relief.

Unfortunately, the relief was good enough that I wanted to try to stop taking my Allegra. Three days later I was a weepy, sniffling mess and I resolved to try something that could actually change how we approach the problem of seasonal allergies.

A visualization I generated to show just how rough it is right now with high pollen levels across most of the United States.

Hayfever.io — A Start

I decided to get organized and attack this problem with the tools of my trade. I’m a bioengineer by education and a software developer by vocation, so I figured I could use some technology to better understand what’s going on. Initially I just wanted a tool that would let me keep track of my symptoms and help me identify what was causing them. The app I wrote, which I’m calling Hayfever, is working pretty well for me so far. Here’s what it can do right now:

  • Record the severity of symptoms like itchy eyes and runny nose.
  • Grab and store my current location when I record symptoms.
  • Look up and store the particulate levels, ozone levels, and pollen types at the location where I’m experiencing symptoms.
  • Begin to analyze what type of allergens are associated with certain symptoms.
A couple of screen grabs from Hayfever showing how to record symptoms and view a previous report. It’s nothing fancy, I know. But it works.

The app is free and available for iOS and Android. Anyone can download it today and start tracking his or her own symptoms.

Something Ambitious

But as I mentioned earlier, I want to try something a bit more ambitious. And this is where I need your help.

Let’s use our phones to build the most complete, real-time, super-localized allergy data set ever and use it to reduce the misery we experience from seasonal allergies.

I believe a platform that can process real-time, user-reported symptoms can change the way we approach allergy season. We can use spot reports of symptoms from app users to create allergy alerts in the same way that Waze uses traffic reports from other drivers to improve its routing. Here are some thoughts on what could be done with enough users and enough data points:

  • Create an accurate and continually updated database of where people are experiencing allergy symptoms.
  • Aggregate symptom reports and allergen reports across users to build a profile of sensitivities.
  • Generate customized warnings when users with similar profiles are experiencing symptoms nearby.
  • Correct for what medications users are taking and predict how severe symptoms would be with or without medication.
  • Estimate how effective various combinations of over the counter allergy medications would be for you based on users with similar profiles nearby.

Data Points Needed

To make this work, we’ll need a significant number of users reporting their symptoms daily. So if you suffer from seasonal allergies or can share this article with someone who does, download the free app and try recording your symptoms for a few weeks. In return I promise to do my best to crunch the numbers and share what I learn here.

We probably won’t find a way to cure allergies, but together maybe we can outsmart them.

A closing visualization showing how the pollen levels ebb in the winter and flow in the spring, with ripples forming and spreading across the country.