Is Pollen Causing Your Seasonal Suffering?
The great outdoors may not seem as great if you are allergic to pollen. Simply stepping outside might be unbearable if you are the 1 in 7 people affected by what is affectionately referred to as "hayfever".
The mere thought of mowing the lawn or attending an outdoor barbeque will seem to border on torture for pollen allergy sufferers. If your allergies are more severe, you might even dread the morning walk from your house to get into your car! This is because pollen is one of the most pervasive allergens, hitching a ride home on your clothes and hair to torment you for hours after being outside.
All the plants, grasses and trees that make the landscape lush and beautiful can also give you nightmarish symptoms, like itchy eyes, runny nose and violent sneezes. You can think of this blog post as a beginner’s guide to understanding pollen allergies. You’ll get some tips and insights that will keep you enjoying the spring, summer and fall weather rather than feeling under it.
What Exactly Causes Pollen Allergies?
Pollen is created by plants, grasses and trees as part of their reproduction. Pollen grains are so tiny that they resemble a golden yellow powder – but when you look at pollen under a microscope, it is comprised of tiny round or oval shaped spheres. Pollen is easily inhaled and sticks to the moist surfaces inside the nose, throat, nasal cavity, bronchial tubes and lungs.
When pollen comes in contact with these delicate areas, your body mistakes them for more dangerous intruders, like viruses or other germs. In an attempt to save you from what appears to be a threat (but in actuality is just a harmless grain of pollen), your immune system launches a massive attack.
Mucus production is intensified to flush out the invaders, and this causes symptoms like a runny or stuffed up nose, sinus congestion, and cough. You sneeze reflexively, to dislodge the pollen that was inhaled. Your eyes might even flood with tears to flush out the pollen that landed on the delicate skin surrounding them. Though the pollen itself is harmless, your immune system’s fight to defend your body is what causes the uncomfortable symptoms associated with allergies.
Which Do I Have: Pollen Allergies, Hay Fever or Seasonal Allergies?
You might be wondering what the difference is between pollen allergies, hay fever and seasonal allergies. The truth is that these terms are used interchangeably for the same condition which is best described as sensitivity to pollen and other airborne parts of plants.
How Do I Tell What Types of Plants Am I Allergic To?
For most people, allergic reactions are caused by pollen from native plants, grasses or trees. Throughout different points in the growing season (the warmer months of the year, including fall), plants and trees pollinate.
The months of April and May will hold weeks of allergies suffering for some, while late August and September could spell allergic misery for others. This is because there are specific points in the year when certain plants are creating pollen.
If you have more symptoms in March through late April: You most likely are allergic to tree pollen. In the spring, trees are the first to dump their pollen into the air. Some of the worst allergy-causing trees: Oak, Elm, Mulberry, Sycamore, Red Cedar, Walnut, Almond.
If you have more symptoms in April through August: You most likely are allergic to the pollen created by grasses. Grass pollen is produced steadily throughout the spring and summer. Some of the worst allergy-causing grasses: Bahia Grass, Bermuda Grass, Blue Fescue, Bluegrass, Centipede Grass, Fountain Grass, Timothy Grass and Sedge.
If you have symptoms in July through mid to late October: You are most likely allergic to pollen created by weeds. Most weeds are pollinating during the end of the summer and early fall. Some of the worst allergy-causing weed plants: Ragweed, Artemisia or Wormwood, Castor Bean, English Plantain, Dog Fennel, Sagebrush, Dandelion
Are You Allergic to Your Garden?
This is probably one of the biggest myths about pollen allergies – and it causes a lot of people to blame their allergies on a harmless species of plant. Many believe that they are allergic to roses, lilies, daffodils, tulips and other flowers. But before you bulldoze your garden, read this!
Plants or trees with colorful or fragrant flowers usually do not cause allergies. These plants have blossoms that are brightly colored and sweet smelling to attract pollinators like bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. Pollinators carry the pollen from plant to plant – and the pollen produced by these plants is heavy and waxy which makes it harder to accidently inhale it.
Allergy causing plants and trees are usually rather drab, with less colorful flowers. These plants do not need pollinators to spread their pollen, because they rely on the wind to carry it for them. This means that these varieties create huge amounts of tiny, light-weight pollen and dump it into the air. This type of pollen is carried on the breeze and often takes a detour into your unsuspecting lungs.
A few people might be allergic to flowers like roses or lilies, but usually these people are florists, gardeners or landscapers. Their constant exposure to these flower pollens can cause them to become sensitized.
For individuals who seem allergic to flowers with heavy fragrance, it is most likely that they have a condition called vasomotor rhinitis, which has the same symptoms as allergies, but requires different treatment.
Symptoms of Pollen Allergies:
- Runny Nose and Nasal Congestion
- Itchy, Watery Eyes
- Itchy Nose, Roof of Mouth or Throat
- Sinus Pressure and Facial Pain
- Swollen Under the Eyes - often the skin under eyes appears blue tinged
- Decrease Sense of Taste or Smell
Who is Allergic to Pollen?
Often your geographical location will affect your allergies. Areas with warmer and longer summers will experience longer seasons for pollinating and in turn, allergies that are drawn out for a larger part of the year. There are a few main factors that play into whether a person will be prone to developing pollen allergies:
Hereditary: If you have family members who have or had problems with allergies, you are more likely to have allergies as well. If both of your parents were allergic to pollen (or anything else for that matter), you have a 75% chance of developing allergies as well. If only one parent or relatives on only one side of your family has allergies, your chances of being allergic to pollen drops to 50%. Individuals with asthma are also more likely to be allergic to pollen, especially if they are also allergic to other allergens, like dust mites or animal dander.
Exposure: People who play sports or engage in a lot of outdoor activities are more likely to develop pollen allergies. If you have a job outside, or are a landscaper, florist, gardener or farmer you are also at an increased risk of becoming sensitized.
Age: Young children with a family history of allergies are more likely to develop pollen allergies. If a child has not developed allergies by 12-14, their likelihood of becoming allergic is slight. Many older individuals who seem to develop animal allergies during adulthood often were allergic to other substances (though they may not have seen symptoms), and have only just become sensitized to pollen.
Top 3 Ways to Avoid Pollen Allergies
Avoid Being Outside in the A.M.: Plants and trees release the mother load of their pollen in the morning, so if you avoid having windows open or going outside during this time, you can reduce your exposure. Sometimes outdoor activities like walking and jogging can be switched from the morning to the evening hours. For those unavoidable outdoor tasks, like walking the dog or watering plants, ask a non-allergic family member or friend – or take allergy medication before leaving the door.
Ditch Your Shoes at the Door: When you come back to your home, make sure that you remove your shoes. A lot of pollen settles to the ground and is walked into your house on shoes. This will also cut down on other indoor air pollutants like pesticides, which are commonly tracked indoors on the bottom of your shoes. Another way to cut down on the pollen in your home is by changing your clothes after a walk or afternoon outside. Immediately put your old clothes into a laundry bag to keep pollen from spreading. Take a shower if you start to feel symptoms-this will rinse all the collected pollen out of your hair and away from your face.
Use HEPA Filters Throughout the House: HEPA filters are recommended by allergists and doctors as the most effective method of removing airborne allergens before they reach your nose and lungs. Air Filters like those made by Dynamic use a combination of HEPA filters and activated carbon to remove even the smallest allergens. Both HEPA and carbon filters are completely same for asthma sufferers, so often find electrostatic and o-zone creating filters cause their lungs more harm than good.