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. 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 – up to one million pollen grains per day – and this pollen tends to be small, dry, and light-weight. 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, which is an overreaction by the body’s immune system to pollen. Pollen particles trigger allergic symptoms when they enter people’s throats and noses. Grass pollen, tree pollen, and weed pollen all cause allergic reactions.
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. We provide a daily pollen count on our Twitter feed to help allergic individuals prepare for the pollen exposure.
Pollen Allergy Symptoms
- Irritation or itching of the nose, eyes, and throat
- Nasal congestion
- Post nasal drip
- Chest congestion
- Allergic cough
- Shortness of breath
Pollen allergies affect the upper respiratory tract. This means that most symptoms will be related to the nose, throat, and airways. These symptoms can be seasonal or last year-round.
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 or Oral Allergy Syndrome. These cross-reactions may involve itchiness of the throat and mouth. If you react to certain fruits, an allergist can test you for a pollen allergy to determine the relationship.
Diagnosing A Pollen Allergy
A skin prick test is the easiest way to diagnose a pollen allergy. It can test for grass, tree, and ragweed pollens among many other allergens. An allergist will prick your skin with a small amount of the allergen and watch for a reaction. A positive result will show raised bumps on the skin accompanied by some itching. Skin prick testing is the quickest diagnostic tool to test for allergies. Results are produced within 15-20 minutes.
Pollen Allergy Treatment
Antihistamines are effective in treating pollen allergy symptoms. There are brands that last for 24 hours at a time and start working within an hour. You can buy them over the counter or ask your doctor for a prescription brand. We suggest taking allergy medication the night before so you’ll be prepared for the high pollen counts in the morning.
For those that suffer from pollen allergies year-round, immunotherapy is a treatment option. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, decreases symptoms over a period of time. The process desensitizes you to specific allergens that trigger an allergic reaction. Many patients begin to feel allergy relief within a few months of starting the treatment.
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 or leave the windows open in your house
- Electrostatic filters may be more effective than standard air filters at trapping pollens.
Pollen Allergy Frequently Asked Questions
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 and have an allergic reaction. Only gardeners, florists, and others that have long-term, close contact with flowers are likely to develop pollen allergy to flowers.
Some of the common allergenic tree pollens are ash, beech, birch, hickory, oak, poplar, sycamore, elm, and maple.
Tree pollens 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 from 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 to at least one tree in the same family.
Pollinating season varies by each region, but it normally begins in early spring.
If you need help with your pollen allergy, the NYC allergists at NY Allergy & Sinus Centers are here to help. We will also help find relief for your asthma, nasal and sinus problems, and skin conditions. We have the newest testing and treatment, and we offer convenient clinics throughout the NYC metropolitan area. To make an appointment, call us today at (212) 686-4448.