What Is a Pollen Allergy?
Pollen is one of the main causes of respiratory allergy (such as asthma or rhinitis) and conjunctivitis. It consists of particles produced by trees and plants during the flowering period, which are released in order to fertilize other trees or plants. Pollen travel through the air mostly, which is when it causes allergy problems. Many people know pollen allergy as “hay fever.” Experts usually refer to pollen allergy as “seasonal allergic rhinitis.”
Grasses are the most common cause of allergy. Ragweed is a main cause of weed allergies. Certain species of trees, including hasel, alder, birch, ash and in some areas cedar and oak, also produce highly allergenic pollen.
People with pollen allergies only have symptoms when the pollens they are allergic to are in the air.
The most common symptoms are:
- Runny nose
- Itchy nose and eyes. Sometimes ears and mouth
- Stuffy nose (nasal congestion)
- Red and watery eyes
- Swelling around the eyes
Symptoms also may be triggered by common irritants such as:
- Cigarette smoke
- Strong odors, such as perfume, or hair spray and fumes
- Laundry detergents
- Cleaning solutions, car exhaust and other air pollutants (i.e., ozone)
There are two types of allergic rhinitis:
Seasonal: Symptoms can occur in spring, summer and early fall. They are usually caused by sensitivity to pollens from trees, grasses or weeds or to airborne mold spores.
Perennial: Symptoms occur year-round and are generally caused by sensitivity to dust mites, pet hair or dander, cockroaches or mold.
Your doctor may recommend a skin test, in which small amounts of suspected allergens are introduced into your skin. Skin testing is the easiest, most sensitive and generally least expensive way of identifying allergens.
Blood tests are helpful when people have a skin condition or are taking medicines that interfere with skin testing. They may also be used in children who may not tolerate skin testing.
Treatment for Pollen Allergy
The first and most important step in controlling allergies is allergen avoidance. There is a range of over-the-counter and prescription medicines to help reduce pollen allergy symptoms.
- Corticosteroid nasal spray.
- Leukotriene receptor antagonists
Many people are not totally symptom free with these medications. They may be candidates for immunotherapy. Immunotherapy changes the course of allergic disease by modifying the body’s immune response to allergens.
- Subcutaneous Immunotherapy (SCIT) – Allergy Shots
- Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT) in tablets or liquids
What can you do?
- Stay indoors as much as possible when pollen counts are at their peak, usually during the midmorning and early evening. Use air conditioning in your car and home with a HEPA filter attachment. Check the pollen filter in your car and close windows while driving.
- Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors to minimize the amount of pollen getting into your eyes
- Wear hats with wide brim. This will help keep pollen off your hair.
- Start taking allergy medicine before pollen season begins. Most allergy medicines work best when taken this way. This allows the medicine to prevent your body from releasing histamine and other chemicals that cause your symptoms.
- Wash your hair daily before going to bed. This will remove pollen from your hair and skin and keep it off your bedding.
- Do not change clothes worn during outdoor activities in your bedroom
- Wash bedding in hot, soapy water once a week.
- Don’t hang clothing outdoors to dry; pollen may stick to laundry. Dry your clothes in a clothes dryer.
- Wear a pollen mask when mowing the lawn, raking leaves or gardening, and take appropriate medication beforehand or better, let the work done by another person.
- Limit close contact with pets that spend a lot of time outdoors.
Allergic rhinitis can be associated with:
- Decreased concentration and focus
- Limited activities
- Problems remembering things
- Sleep disorders
- Missed days of work or school
- More motor vehicle accidents
- More school or work injuries
Allergic rhinitis has a huge impact on quality of life.