Cell phones answer calls for help from allergy sufferers

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August may have offered a breather, but in about three weeks ragweed season will kick in, and nearly a fourth of the population will have to take extra precautions before stepping out of the door.

But some help is at hand.

A Canadian drug firm has launched an initiative targeted at bleary eyed Canadians afflicted with allergies.

Pfizer Canada Inc. recently rolled out a free cell phone-based pollen alert service that promises to give allergy sufferers a heads up on the pollen situation.

“This service allows people – even before they get out the door – to take control and manage their symptoms,” said Maria Gregory, senior brand manager for Reactine, the allergy medication manufactured by Markham, Ont.-based Pfizer Canada.

Dubbed Reactine Mobile Pollen Alerts, the Canada-wide service broadcasts text message updates and warnings on pollen densities in a subscriber’s area.

“It’s like a weather or traffic report you receive right on your cell phone,” Gregory explained.

Under the scheme, people simply sign up for the service on Reactine’s Web site.

Subscribers have to identify their residence so the pollen forecast for the area can be accessed. They also have to specify the time when they want to receive their forecasts. Ideally this would be just before they leave their homes for the day.

Allergy symptoms can run the gamut of sneezing, skin irritation, and watery eyes to the more serious constriction of air passages, according to Dr. Karen Binkley a Toronto-based allergist who practices at St. Michael’s and Sunnybrook Hospitals. “For some it’s a nuisance, for others allergies could be debilitating and even life threatening.”

“Overall 20 to 30 per cent of the population is affected by allergic conditions,” said Binkley.

Of this number, she said, at least 43 per cent are not able to take active measures to mitigate the symptoms before they strike.

“I think Mobile Pollen Alerts is a good idea because it will allow people to deal with their allergies proactively,” she added.

Reactine is using the services of Jambo Mobile, a mobile communications marketing firm headquartered in Toronto, to transmit text messages to program subscribers.

Jambo Mobile receives pollen forecasts from Aerobiology Research Laboratories, a private lab based in Nepean, Ont. Gregory said the lab’s predictions have a 90 per cent accuracy rate.

Since its inception, cell phones have been used to deliver a wide variety of services beyond that of transmitting voice.

A recent study found a significant demand today in North America for mobile versions of online services like mapping, text messaging, photo taking, games, e-mail, Web search and Web browsing.

EBay Germany, the second largest eBay community after the U.S., is offering its customers the Opera Mini eBay edition browser. The service allows users to sell, bid on and buy products from eBay using their mobile phones in the same way they do on their computers.

Near-live video clips for mobile phones are being produced with a technology known as “pan and scan,” initially developed to adapt screen films to the smaller TV format.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article close to US$2 billion has or is being, invested in cell phone services for people who want to do more than talk on the phone.

The article, however, said these initiatives are struggling.

Gregory said Reactine’s program is being offered free for a limited time during allergy season and the company is still studying whether to expand the program.

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