As the warmer weather of spring turns to summer, hay fever sufferers everywhere will be reaching for the medication, closing the windows and resisting the constant urge to rub their eyes.
Being allergic to pollen and other airborne particulate matter is no fun. Along with pollen being brought in from outside, having windows open on a warm, sunny day is likely to move dust around your home, increasing the likelihood of hay fever-like symptoms developing.
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But along with the usual supply of tablets and nasal sprays, we at GearBrain think the smart home might be able to offer a solution.
Of course, not much can be done about the air outside. But there are air quality monitors, purifiers, smart plugs, Alexa and IFTTT (If This, Then That) applets which can help form an automated solution for keeping your hay fever at bay.
Air quality monitors and forecasting services
We will be discussing a two-pronged approach for making your smart home aware of pollen nearby. The first step is to buy an air quality monitor, and the second is to pick a local weather forecasting service which can both offer an up-to-date pollen count, and can be used with IFTTT.
First up, here are some air quality monitors to consider:
One of our favorite air monitors, the Awair is a smart wooden box with a simple LED arrangement for displaying a live score out of 100; the higher the number, the better the surrounding air quality. Now in its second generation, the box also shows scores for temperature, humidity, CO2, chemicals and dust. Although it cannot measure pollen directly, the device's dust reading can be used to trigger a fan or air purifier, helping to remove the hay fever-like symptoms dust can cause.
Much like the previous two options, the Blueair Aware monitors particulate matter, VOCs, carbon dioxide, temperature and humidity, and logs this data every five minutes. As with the others, this data can be viewed on the Aware's iPhone and Android smartphone app.
Where the Awair needs to tap into IFTTT (more on this later), the Aware can talk directly to Blueair's air purifiers, like the Classic 205. This setup was reviewed by GearBrain in 2017 and scored four stars out of five.
However, at $350 for the purifier and $200 for the monitor, this solution will be out of reach for some readers. Thankfully, cheaper systems can be set up thanks to IFTTT and smart plugs.
We write a lot about If This, Then That at GearBrain, because it has the power to make smart home products and services work together in ways they couldn't do before. The platform's so-called applets can be created in just a few seconds and are how devices trigger each other into action.
For example, an IFTTT applet can be written to switch on a Samsung air purifier when a Blueair Aware detects high levels of particulates. With a tweak of the applet, this could be used with an Awair. Similarly, the applet can be modified to take control of other smart home devices, like a WeMo air purifier or Tado air conditioner.
IFTTT can also be used to make devices react to the weather forecast, or alert you to a high pollen count. For example, an applet can send you an email or other notification when Weather Underground reports a high pollen count for your area, reminding you to take your hay fever medication. Or, an applet could take that same forecast and switch on your air purifier before pollen starts to affect you.
A simpler early-warning system could take the forecast and turn a Philips Hue smart light red when the pollen count is above a certain number. You could configure this so that your bedside lamp turns green on low pollen days and red when the count is higher - and set it to change the lamp's color at the time you return from your morning shower.
This is something of a low-tech solution, but if you can find an air purifier or conditioning unit which switches on and starts working as soon as it receives power from a wall outlet, it could be just as effective as a more complex, automated system.
That's because a smart plug can be set to switch on when IFTTT tells it to – either because an air quality monitor like the Awair Element has recorded a rise on particulate matter, or because the local weather forecast predicts high pollen for the day.
You could also use this system for switching on a fan plugged into a smart plug to circulate air, or even activate a motorized window blind when the room's temperature reaches a certain level.
As we said above, it is crucial that the air purifier, conditioner or fan works when it receives power and does not require the press of a button - because if it does, the smart plug will have no affect. You should also look to buy a purifier with a HEPA filter, and learn about how often the filter needs replacing - this can be as often as three months, in some cases.
Air purifiers with Alexa
Stepping away from IFTTT - and thus taking a less automated approach - there are now air purifiers with their own Wi-Fi connections and Alexa skills. This means you can set the purifier to work at certain times of day via the Alexa Routines function, or have the device to switch on when you ask Alexa out-loud.
Air purifiers which can be controlled by Alexa include:
Dyson Pure Hot + Cool Air Purifier, Heater + Fan - HEPA Air Filter, Space Heater and Certified Asthma + Allergy Friendly, WiFi-Enabled – HP04
What does the future hold?
For now, most smart air quality monitors do not offer specific measurements of pollen, and instead group it into their particulates reading. We would like to see extra granularity here in the future, allowing hay fever sufferers to know more clearly when pollen in their home is high.
The future will also see smart homes open and close their windows to regulate their temperature and humidity, and to expel excessive amounts of carbon dioxide. The Velux Active, a motorized window system powered by Netatmo, launched in 2019 as a way of automatically controlling windows, blinds and shutters based on the weather and indoor conditions. We hope to see this system, and others, take particulates, dust and pollen into account in the near future.
With all of these devices and services, a smart home where the windows automatically close and air purifiers switch on when high levels of pollen are recorded is much closer than you might think.