Study: Hay Fever Affected European Test Results


A study out of Norway has found that hay fever has a detrimental effect on exam performance after higher pollen levels at the time that a test was taken resulted in lowered performance by those with environmental allergies.

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology examined data from three years of public school testing between 2008 and 2011. They found that higher pollen levels caused those with hay fever to get grades as much as 10% lower than expected. The difference may be enough to bar these students from a fair shot at university placement.

Sean Coughlan of the BBC News quoted the study, which read:

Increases in pollen counts can temporarily reduce cognitive abilities for allergic students, who will score worse relative to their peers on high stake exams, and consequently be at a disadvantage when competing for jobs or higher education.”

The study also found that those with hay fever are less likely to major in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) in university.

Hay fever, which acts like a prolonged version of the common cold, is an allergic reaction to a substance in the environment. Usually, this substance is plant pollen, which is released in the spring and summer, but the reaction can also be caused by mold, animals, and dust mites. The condition is more common in children and those with asthma and may affect up to a tenth of minors in the US.

Loss of concentration is a commonly documented symptom, along with other problems that decrease quality of life, such as the inability to breathe well enough to exercise.

Alexis Villarias of Food World News quoted the study’s author, Simon Sobstad Benses, on the dire consequences of testing during pollen season:

Holding high-stakes exams during pollen season has a large negative effect on allergic students, who are subsequently unfairly barred from enrolling in the most prestigious universities.

In the UK, the pollen count was “very high” during GCSE and A-level exams. Those who believe that they have been seriously affected by allergies can apply to have this taken into account when their grades are calculated, according to Eleanor Harding of the Daily Mail.

The study was presented at the European Economic Association conference in Mannheim, Germany, writes Chris Green of the Independent.

These results are likely to apply in other settings such as the workplace, resulting in lowered productivity.

Hay fever, which is also known as allergic rhinitis and pollinosis, occurs when one’s immune system is triggered into overreaction by environmental elements. Symptoms of hay fever include itchy, watery eyes, swelling around the eyes, sneezing, and a runny or stuffy nose.