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Pollen Allergies

What is pollen?

Pollen grains are microscopic particles released by plants in order for them to reproduce. Some plant species are self-pollinating. Since their pollen does not need to travel very far, these plants rarely cause allergic symptoms in humans. Other plants reproduce by cross-pollination facilitated by insects and animals. These plants usually have showy flowers that attract pollinators, and often have pollen that is less likely to become airborne. Therefore, these plants are also unlikely to cause allergic reactions. However, plants that rely upon the wind for pollination are very problematic for allergy sufferers. Their pollen is usually produced in very large quantities – even one million pollen grains per day – and this pollen tends to be small, dry, and light-weight. This is bad news for us because these pollens are tailor-made to become airborne, making them very easy to inhale and very difficult to avoid.

What is a pollen allergy?

When pollen is inhaled by allergic individuals it causes seasonal allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever. Pollen particles trigger allergic symptoms when they enter people’s throats and noses. These allergy symptoms include sneezing; irritation or itching of the nose, eyes, and throat; nasal congestion; or post nasal drip. In more severe reactions, someone may experience chest congestion, wheezing, allergy cough, or shortness of breath.

Each plant species has its own pollinating period, which is relatively consistent from one year to the next. However, pollinating season is slightly different based upon geographic location. Since pollination is dependent upon how long the nights and days are, states in the northern US experience a pollinating period a little later than the southern US. On the other hand, weather does not affect a plant’s pollinating period, but it does affect when and how much pollen is distributed.

Pollen allergy counts, which are part of many local weather reports, are measures of how much pollen is in the air. Pollen counts are usually highest in the early morning on dry, warm, breezy days. They are usually lowest during wet, cold periods. Even though pollen counts are always changing and are really only estimates, they are helpful for advising you when it is best to stay indoors so that you can minimize your pollen exposure.

What is a grass allergy?

Though more than a thousand species of grasses grow in the US, only a few of them produce pollen that is highly allergic to humans. These include Timothy, Kentucky bluegrass, Johnson, Bermuda, Redtop, Orchard, and Sweet vernal.

What is a weed allergy?

In the Northeastern US, the most common allergenic weeds are ragweed, English plantain, pigweed, lamb’s quarters, and mugwort.

Ragweed is a very well-known allergenic weed. It is a ragged-looking plant that has an unpleasant smell. Interestingly, when ragweed grows in a hostile environment, it will produce more pollen.

What is a tree pollen allergy?

In the Northeast US, some of the common allergenic tree pollens are ash, beech, birch, hickory, oak, poplar, sycamore, elm, and maple.

Sometimes, people who react to tree pollens may also react to certain fruits, specifically plums, pears, and apples. This condition is called Food-Pollen Allergy Syndrome. These cross-reactions may involve itchiness of the throat and mouth, and some people find that cooking these fruits will reduce or eliminate any reaction. Allergy testing performed by one of our allergy and asthma associates can help identify the pollen allergy that is causing your allergy symptoms.

Though tree pollens show cross-reactivity with certain foods, they generally do not cross-react among themselves. Therefore, if you are allergic to one tree pollen, you are not necessarily allergic to another. Two types of trees are exempt to this rule: 1) the family that contains beech, oak, and birch, and 2) the one that contains cedar and juniper. If you are allergic to one of these trees, you will likely experience symptoms at least one tree in the same family.

Can I be allergic to flowers?

Flowering plants are usually pollinated by bees, not the wind. This means that the flowers’ pollen – usually heavy and waxy – is unlikely to become airborne, and you are unlikely to inhale it. True flower allergies are uncommon. If you find that you sneeze around flowers, it is more likely that you are allergic to another plant nearby, or that the smell of the flowers is irritating to your nose. Only gardeners, florists, and others that have long-term, close contact with flowers are likely to develop pollen allergy to flowers.

Tips for Dealing with Pollen Allergies

After you have spent time outdoors, take a quick shower to remove any pollen you may have accumulated on your skin or hair.

Spend more time indoors when pollen levels are high. You can check pollen counts online.

Don’t drive around with your windows down. Don’t leave the windows open in your house either.

Electrostatic filters may be more effective than standard air filters at trapping pollens.

Note that most inexpensive face masks available at drug stores do not effectively protect you from inhaling pollen because pollen particles are incredibly small.

Treatment Options

There are many over-the-counter options for antihistamines that can help relieve your allergy symptoms. There are even newer antihistamine formulas that do not cause drowsiness. You may consider over the counter allergy medication as your first treatment option. If you have any questions, allergy doctors in NYC can help.

Allergy immunotherapy is usually the best treatment option for long-term relief. Most patients will experience a significant improvement in allergy symptoms within 6 months of beginning immunotherapy or allergy shots.


If you need help with your pollen allergy, the allergy doctors & associates at the NY Allergy & Sinus Centers are here to help. We will also help find relief for your asthma, nasal and sinus problems, ENT (ear, nose, and throat) symptoms, food & respiratory allergies, and skin conditions. We have the newest testing and treatment, and we offer convenient clinics throughout the NYC metropolitan area: Midtown, Chelsea, and Queens, Murray Hill, and the Upper West Side (UWS). To make an appt, call us today at 212-686-4448.

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