There are millions of people suffering from seasonal allergies due to airborne pollen from trees, grass, and weed. Despite being seasonal, some people have symptoms most of the year. The local news even provides regular updates on pollen counts during spring. Here are the things you need to know about Pollen Allergies and how it is diagnosed and treated.
What Is Pollen Allergy?
Pollen allergy refers to the defensive reaction of the immune system when exposed to pollen through inhalation. Pollen is a fine yellowish powder produced by flowering plants, like trees, weeds, and grasses. The wind carries pollen to help in the fertilization of other plants. The immune system identifies the pollen as a dangerous intruder and begins to produce chemicals that help to expel it from the body,
Seasonal allergies are mostly due to pollen. For the most part, plants pollinate during a specific season in the year. Typically trees pollinate in the spring, grasses in the summer, and weeds in the fall. Spring allergy season is the start of the pollinating season in colder weather climates. People may develop significant nasal and respiratory symptoms in the springtime when most trees release large amounts of pollen. Summer allergies are also rampant due to grasses pollinating from late spring to midsummer. Weeds pollinate from the late summer through early fall. In warmer weather climates, pollen seasons are longer and have less distinct beginnings and endings.
Pollen reactions are also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis. According to the American Academy of Allery Asthma Immunology, 10-30% of the world population has allergic rhinitis, and approximately 7.8% of Americans over 18 are affected by hay fever. According to the National Health Interview Survey, children develop pollen allergies at the same rate as adults.
Symptoms of Pollen Allergies?
Pollen allergy symptoms consist of the following:
- Swollen, blue-tinged skin beneath the eyes
- Decreased sense of taste or smell
- Increased asthmatic reactions
- Nasal congestion
- Sinus pressure
- Runny nose
- Itchy eyes
- Watery eyes
- Scratchy throat
How is Pollen Allergy Diagnosed?
A doctor can diagnose pollen allergy through history, but will likely refer you to an allergist for further testing. The allergist, an allergy specialist, will listen to your medical history, ask about symptoms, how frequently they occur, and when the symptoms are at their worst. The allergist will perform skin testing to determine what pollen triggers your symptoms.
How to Treat Pollen Allergies
Allergy symptoms are manageable and treatable through allergen avoidance, medication, and/or allergy shots, as advised by your allergist:
Avoiding what triggers your allergy is the best treatment. However, avoiding pollens can be challenging. Here are some tips on how you can minimize your pollen exposure:
- Keep track of the pollen count in your area
- Stay at home during windy days
- Wear a mask like the N95 face mask when going out
- Take a shower and wash your clothes when you arrive home
- Vacuum your house regularly
- Clean out your air filters
There are prescription and over-the-counter medications that provide relief from your pollen allergies such as:
- Non-sedating antihistamines
- Nasal steroids
- Mast cell stabilizers
Allergy shots are one of the best treatments for those who are sensitive to pollen as well as indoor allergens. It is advisable when oral medications do not provide relief from symptoms or cause side effects which limit their use. Allergy shots help modify your immune system, to build a tolerance to what you are currently sensitive to. Injections start with a small amount of diluted allergen, which is slowly increased in amount and strength. Long-lasting tolerance to the allergens is achieved over time. The dose will also increase until your body can desensitize to the allergens.
Different Types of Pollen Allergies
Various plants release pollen and cause allergic reactions. However, some plants cause more trouble than others. Here are some of the most common pollen allergies:
Birch Pollen Allergy
Pollen from birch trees is a common spring airborne allergen. Birch pollen is scattered by the wind as the trees bloom during spring. A birch tree can scatter almost 5 million pollen grains that travel a far distance from the tree.
Oak Pollen Allergy
Although oak pollen may be less allergenic than other tree pollens, it can stay suspended in the air for more extended periods, increasing its allergenicity.
Grass Pollen Allergy
Grass pollens are the primary airborne pollen in late spring through summer. The extended pollen season makes grass difficult pollen to avoid. Immunotherapy in the form of injections or tablets can help those with grass allergy tolerate grass pollen.
Ragweed Pollen Allergy
Ragweed pollinates during the late summer and fall months. Its pollen is one of the most common allergens among weed plants. Ragweed pollen is plentiful from the last week of July until the middle of October. Ragweed pollen is very hardy. It can survive through the winter cold and can be spread hundreds of miles by winds.
Where to Get treated for Pollen Allergies
If your current allergy medications are not giving you enough relief, consult an allergy specialist. Dr. Amy Schiffman is an allergy and immunology specialist in Boca Raton, Florida. She is more than happy to help you manage your pollen allergies and get you the treatment that will best suit you.