There’s a reason you see pollen counts being tracked in various cities across the country. Tens of millions of people suffer from seasonal allergies triggered by pollen every year.
It can be a total nightmare! But, knowledge really is power if you suffer from pollen allergies and want the relief you so desperately crave.
In this guide, we have everything you need to know about pollen allergies and how to manage them.
What Is a Pollen Allergy?
Pollen is singlehandedly responsible for most seasonal allergies that people experience. Often known as “hay fever”, the medical name for a pollen allergy is “seasonal allergic rhinitis” and it can be triggered by breathing in the pollen or simply coming into contact with it.
Ever notice how some types of flowers, trees, plants or grass make you sneeze like crazy? Or maybe your eyes just start to get watery for no reason?
You guessed it! It all comes down to pollen, the fine yellow powder that’s produced by plants to fertilize other plants of the same species. While not everyone is allergic to pollen, some people have it worse than others.
What are the symptoms of a pollen allergy?
Breathing in pollen can trigger all kinds of adverse immune responses in people depending on their sensitivities. Common symptoms of a pollen allergy include:
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Itchy and watery eyes
- Scratchy throat
- Decreased sense of taste or smell
Types of Pollen Allergies
It’s totally possible to be allergic to some types of pollen and not others. It comes down to how the plant that produces the pollen is fertilized. Yeah, it’s basically about plant sex.
Plants that are fertilized by insects, like roses, cherry trees and pear trees, are usually safe for people with pollen allergies. But there are also plants that fertilize by sending pollen out into the wind. These are the ones to look out for if you have pollen allergies.
Usually, the male part of the plant holds the pollen and sends it out to the female. It’s during the time the pollen is travelling in the air that most people breathe it in or come into contact with it. Cue allergic reaction.
While there are hundreds of plant species that release pollen into the air, the common culprits are:
Grass Pollen Allergy
Cue the main trigger of pollen allergies during summer: grass. Grass pollen allergies can cause severe and difficult to treat symptoms. Thankfully, allergy shots and tablets can be effective in relieving grass pollen allergies in most people.
Birch Pollen Allergy
During springtime, birch pollen is one of the most common airborne allergens. One birch tree can produce as much as 5 million grains of pollen which can travel as far as 100 yards from the parent tree.
Oak Pollen Allergy
Similar to birch trees, oak trees are active during spring and also send pollen into the air. Even though oak is considered to be milder than other types of pollen, it stays in the air much longer. If you’re sensitive to oak pollen allergies, you may experience severe reactions for a longer period of time as a result.
Ragweed Pollen Allergy
When it comes to weeds, ragweed pollen is at the top of the list to look out for. Most people with ragweed pollen allergies are likely to experience symptoms between late spring all the way through to fall. Its pollen is wind-driven and can even survive through a mild winter.
How Is a Pollen Allergy Diagnosed?
Your doctor can usually help with diagnosing a pollen allergy. However, they may also refer you to an allergist to confirm the diagnosis. An allergist is someone who specialises in both diagnosing and treating allergies.
They’ll usually start by asking about your medical history and figure out when your symptoms started and how long they’ve persisted for. When talking to your allergist, it’s always best to be as detailed as possible. You should also let them know if these symptoms get better or worse at certain times of the year.
Then, your allergist will perform a test to figure out which specific allergen is causing your symptoms.
In an SPT, the nurse, doctor or allergist will pick different areas of your skin to test out. They’ll add small droplets of common allergens, including pollen, and then lightly prick your skin through the drop.
If you react, you’re allergic to the substance placed in that area. The reactions will usually include itching, swelling or redness and they occur within 20 minutes. You may also see a raised round bump, called a wheal. It looks like a hive and it can vary in size. The larger the wheal, the more allergic you are to the allergen.
If you have a skin condition or if you’re taking medicine that interferes with skin testing, your doctor may suggest a blood test. Blood tests are also commonly used in children who may not tolerate skin testing.
Your doctor will take a sample of your blood and send it to a laboratory for testing. Common allergens will be added to the sample and the amount of antibodies your blood produces ae measured.
With either type of testing, a positive response won’t always mean that an allergen has caused your symptoms. While there is a strong likelihood, you’ll also need to correlate your exposure to the allergens tested in your daily life as well.
How Can I Treat a Pollen Allergy?
As with other allergies, the best way to treat a pollen allergy is to avoid the allergen. With an abundance of flowers everywhere (especially during certain seasons) however, it can be very difficult to avoid. Some ways to minimise exposure to pollen include:
- Staying indoors on windy days.
- Have someone else take care of gardening and yard work during peak seasons.
- Wear a dust mask when the pollen counts are high.
- Close doors and windows when pollen counts are high.
- Use central air conditioning with an allergy and asthma certified filter.
- Wear sunglasses and a hat to keep pollen out of your eyes and hair.
- Limit contact with pets that spend time outdoors.
If you still experience symptoms with these preventive measures however, there are some medications that you can get over-the-counter that may be able to help:
- Antihistamines such as Zyrtec or Benadryl
- Decongestants such as Sudafed or Afrin nasal spray
- Medications that have both an antihistamine and a decongestant. Some examples would be Acitifed and Claritin-D
- Allergy shots can also help your body build resistance to pollen.
Get ahead of pollen season and start taking medicine in advance. Most allergy medicines work best this way.
There are also some home remedies that you can try that can help with relieving pollen allergy symptoms. Some include:
- Immediately removing and washing clothes that have been worn outside
- Using either a squeeze bottle or neti pot to flush pollen out from the nose
- Drying your clothes in a dryer instead of on a clothesline
- Investing in a HEPA filter at home that’ll help in filtering out the allergens
- Vacuuming regularly with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter
Closing Thoughts and Pollen Counts
The best way to stay ahead of pollen allergies is to keep tabs on pollen counts in your city throughout the year. If you are highly sensitive, it may even be worth doing so on a daily basis.
While you may not always be affected when you see high pollen counts predicted, if you are sensitive to pollen and you’ll be spending time outdoors, bring your protective gear with you.
Keep in mind pollen counts are usually a general number aggregating all types of pollen. You’ll never really know how much of the specific type of pollen that you’re allergic to will be in the air at any time. A low pollen count overall could still include high amounts of the type you’re allergic to and vice versa.
While it certainly helps to keep tabs on pollen predictions, preparation and knowing your sensitivities are the best things you can have on your side to relieve your pollen allergies!