Many people have an adverse immune response when they inhale pollen.
The immune system normally wards off disease by defending the body against harmful invaders, such as viruses and bacteria.
In people with pollen allergies, the immune system mistakenly identifies the harmless pollen as a dangerous invader. The immune system begins to produce chemicals, including histamine, to fight the pollen.
This is known as an allergic reaction and the specific type of pollen that causes it is known as an allergen. The allergic reaction leads to a host of irritating symptoms, such as sneezing, nasal congestion, and watery eyes.
Some people have allergy symptoms all year round, while others only have them during certain times of the year. For example, people who are sensitive to birch pollen usually have heightened symptoms in the spring when birch trees are in bloom. Likewise, those with ragweed allergies are most affected during the early fall.
Once a person has developed a pollen allergy, it is unlikely to go away. However, symptoms can be treated with medications and allergy shots. Certain lifestyle changes may also help relieve symptoms.
Did you know?
A pollen allergy is also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever.
According to the
National Health Surveyconducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7.2 percent of children and 7.7 percent of adults in the United States had hay fever in 2018.
There are hundreds of plant species that release pollen into the air and cause allergic reactions.
Some common culprits are:
- oak trees
- plant ragweed
Allergy to birch pollen
Birch pollen is one of the most common airborne allergens during the spring. As birch trees bloom, they release tiny grains of pollen that are dispersed by the wind.
A single birch tree can produce 5.5 million pollen grains.
Oak pollen allergy
Like birch trees, oak trees send pollen into the air in the spring.
Although oak pollen is considered a mild allergen compared to the pollen of other trees, it remains airborne longer. This can cause severe allergic reactions in some people with pollen allergies.
Allergy to grass pollen
Grass is the leading cause of pollen allergies during the spring and summer months.
There are many types of grass. Only a few of them, such as perennial rye, Bermuda grass and bluegrass, can cause allergies.
Allergy to ragweed pollen
Ragweed plants are the weed most likely to cause allergies. One plant can produce nearly 1 billion pollen grains.
They are most active during the early fall months. However, depending on the location, ragweed can start spreading its pollen as early as August and continue into November.
The wind-driven pollen can travel hundreds of miles and survive a mild winter.
Pollen allergy symptoms usually include:
Pollen allergies occur when your immune system mistakenly identifies pollen as a dangerous substance.
It’s unclear what causes an allergy, including a pollen allergy. Experts believe genetics may play a role.
A general practitioner can usually diagnose a pollen allergy. However, they may refer you to an allergist for allergy testing to confirm the diagnosis. An allergist is someone who specializes in diagnosing and treating allergies.
Allergy testing usually involves these steps:
- You will be asked about your medical history and symptoms – including when they started, how long they lasted, and whether they are always present or get better or worse at certain times of the year.
- They will then perform a skin prick test to determine the specific allergen causing your symptoms. During the procedure, they prick different areas of the skin and insert a small amount of different types of allergens.
- If you are allergic to any of the substances, you will experience redness, swelling, and itching in the area within 15 to 20 minutes. You may also see a raised, round area that looks like hives.
- Allergy testing can also be done through blood tests.
If you’re still experiencing symptoms despite taking preventative measures, there are treatments that can help.
There are several over-the-counter allergy medications available, including:
- antihistamines, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or oxymetazoline (Afrin)
- medications that combine an antihistamine and a decongestant, such as loratadine/pseudoephedrine (Claritin-D) and fexofenadine/pseudoephedrine (Allegra-D)
Allergy shots may be recommended if medications aren’t enough to relieve your symptoms.
Allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy. You will be given a series of injections of the allergen. The amount of allergen in the injection gradually increases over time.
The shots modify your immune system’s response to the allergen, reducing the severity of your allergic reactions. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, you can experience complete relief 1 year after starting allergy shots. Treatment can be continued for a total of 3 to 5 years.
Allergy shots are not recommended for children under 5 years old.
A number of home remedies may also help relieve pollen allergy symptoms.
- using a squeeze bottle or neti pot to flush pollen out of the nose
- trying herbs and extracts, such as PA-free coltsfoot (which does not contain toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids) or spirulina
- removing and washing clothes that have been worn outside
- drying clothes in a dryer instead of outside on a clothesline
- the use of air conditioning in cars and homes
- invest in a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter or dehumidifier
- vacuum regularly with a vacuum cleaner with HEPA filter
As with other allergies, the best way to avoid symptoms of a pollen allergy is to avoid the allergen.
However, pollen is hard to avoid. Still, you may be able to minimize your pollen exposure by:
- staying indoors on dry, windy days
- letting others garden or garden during peak season
- wearing a dust mask when the pollen count is high
- close doors and windows when the pollen count is high
To find out how much pollen is in your area, check an app or the weather section of your local newspaper.
Tell your doctor if your symptoms become more severe or if your allergy medications cause unwanted side effects.
Also, check with your doctor before trying any new herbs or supplements. Some may interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications.
Pollen allergies can interrupt your daily activities by causing sneezing, nasal congestion, and watery eyes. Lifestyle changes and medications can help reduce these symptoms.
Avoiding trees, flowers, grasses, and weeds that trigger your allergies is a good first step. You can do this by staying indoors when pollen levels are high, especially on windy days, or by wearing a dust mask to avoid inhaling pollen.
Medications or allergy shots can also help reduce symptoms.