The major region of olive oil production region in the world, Jaén is home to over 65 million olive trees which are currently flowering, resulting in serious consequences for those with allergies in the province.
Extreme pollen counts have been recorded of more than 2,000 grains per cubic metre. Aggravation for allergy sufferers usually begins at about 50 grains, so this abnormally high level is causing extreme reactions in sensitized people living in the area.
The high levels are expected to continue into the next week, with high temperatures and low rainfall contributing to the increase in pollen in the air.
An increase in the number of children suffering from olive and other pollen and grass allergies in the past years has led to the organization of the Coastal Classrooms Program in the Jaén area.
Due to the large amount of olive trees and therefore olive pollen in the months of April, May and early June, increasing numbers of children in Jaén were missing large amounts of school due to allergies. A concern about the amount of education some children were missing out on and the increasing number suffering from allergies led to the development of the free program which sees children from the area attending classes in residences situated on the Andalusian coast.
When first approved by the government in 2003, ten children attended the classes in the coastal town of Motril. However, this has increased steadily, with up to eighty students attending in years with particularly high pollen counts.
According to the hospital complex in Jaén, hay fever affects around fifteen percent of the population in the area, with a rise to about thirty percent in young people. It is the most common cause of rhino-conjunctivitis and bronchial asthma.
Olive pollen is one of the most prevalent causes of respiratory allergy in Mediterranean countries with twelve different allergens having been identified in olive pollen, in addition to one allergen found in the olive fruit itself.
Although olive trees are primarily pollinated by insects, there is still a large amount of airborne pollen in regions with a high concentration of trees, such as Jaén and many other areas of southern Spain, Greece, Italy and parts of the Middle East and the USA.