A Guide to Pollen: What Is It, Why Are We Allergic and Finding Relief?

A Guide to Pollen: What Is It, Why Are We Allergic and Finding Relief?

Do you have a pollen allergy?

Many Americans do— in fact, pollen allergies are some of the most common seasonal allergies people experience. And while pollen can be a convenient catch-all term for what makes you sneeze and your eyes itch, there's more to it than that.

There are many different kinds of pollen out in the world— there's pollen out there for every kind of plant. That is a lot of pollen. And while some of it may make you miserable during allergy season, other kinds of pollen may not bother you at all. Only certain kinds of pollen may trigger your allergy symptoms— but unless you know exactly which will, it may seem like a monumental task to keep yourself breathing easy during pollen season.

But it doesn't have to be. A little extra knowledge goes a long way— so let's start at the beginning.

What is Pollen?

Pollen is a mass of tiny spores that comes from seed plants. A pollen allergy is an allergy to these spores. 

Pollen typically appears as a fine dust or powdery substance made up of what are known as pollen grains. Every pollen grain is actually a small structure that’s part of the larger whole. Pollen exists to spread so it can fertilize other plants and grow more of them.

Because it's so small and fine, pollen is typically transported in the air by the wind. Airborne pollen is actually the main cause of hay fever— or seasonal allergic rhinitis. It can also be transported by animals— including pets and pollinators like birds, small mammals, and bees— as well as people.

When you inhale or come into contact with any pollen you're allergic to, your immune system produces an allergic reaction. The goal is to protect you against those irritants, but your body essentially overreacts to them. This creates those annoyingly familiar allergy symptoms when you inhale them.

The Different Kinds of Pollen

Not every pollen will make you stuffy and sneezy. That would make getting outside during pollen season nearly impossible.

However, there are three main kinds of pollen that cause your seasonal allergy symptoms. They include:

Tree Pollen

Tree pollen is the most common cause of spring pollen allergy symptoms. It's most common in early spring, from March until May. Many different trees produce irritating pollen. Some of them include:

  • Alder— a major culprit for OAS sufferers.
  • Ash
  • Cedar
  • Cottonwood
  • Elm
  • Juniper
  • Oak
  • Poplar
  • Walnut
  • Willow

Grass Pollen

A grass pollen allergy may depend on where you live. For example, in the northern United States, grass pollen typically appears in late spring or early summer. In the south, these allergies can occur year-round.

And while there are hundreds of kinds of grass, only a handful of them will cause hay fever symptoms. Depending on where you live, those specific native grasses could be causing your pollen allergy. These include:

  • Bahia
  • Bermuda
  • Johnson
  • Timothy

Weed Pollen

Weed pollen can also trigger your hay fever. In fact, one specific type of allergen— ragweed pollen— causes allergies in about 15 percent of people. Ragweed grows in 49 out of 50 states, and can easily travel large distances in the air. That can make it an especially pesky pollen to deal with during allergy season.

Weed pollen allergies normally appear during the late summer and fall. Other weeds with allergenic pollen include:

  • Cocklebur
  • Mugwort
  • Sagebrush
  • Tumbleweed

Pollen Allergy Symptoms

If you experience hay fever, you're familiar with the most common pollen allergy symptoms including:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose— also known as nasal congestion
  • Itchy eyes or nose
  • Irritated, puffy, watery eyes

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, it can feel like an endless cold. That’s because you can’t cure allergies, and until the pollen subsides your allergies won’t go away. You can however control the severity of your symptoms.

Although most symptoms are harmless, you should be aware of any potentially abnormal symptoms when you're allergic to pollen including Oral Allergy Syndrome.

What is Oral Allergy Syndrome?

Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) describes a pollen-related allergic reaction when you eat certain fruits, vegetables, or nuts. OAS is generally milder than systemic allergies to nuts which can be fatal. OAS also isn’t actually a food allergy. 

Oral Allergy Syndrome occurs because the structure of some pollens are similar to the protein in certain foods, including avocados, apples, pears, and cherries. But the proteins aren’t the same, and this is where the problem starts. 

Essentially, when you eat these foods it confuses your immune system and creates an allergic reaction. This happens even though you’re not actually allergic to the foods themselves.

OAS usually happens because of the presence of common pollen on these foods, including pollen from ragweed, birch trees, and alder trees. These three plants are major causes of pollen allergies. When you’re allergic to one of the pollens produced by these plants you may also notice your symptoms are worse when the pollen produced by these plants is at its highest. 

OAS reactions can cause your mouth and lips, tongue, or throat to itch or swell. This can be especially worrisome if you have an OAS reaction to nuts like peanuts and almonds— since those reactions can be a sign of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a serious and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention.

How Common is OAS?

OAS is relatively common with approximately one third of people with seasonal allergies potentially experiencing it, but it’s often undiagnosed and only affects adults. 

How Can I Treat or Reduce OAS Symptoms?

To help reduce or avoid symptoms associated with Oral Allergy Syndrome, cook your food, or peel the skins of fruits and vegetable where the OAS causing protein is usually found.  

Antihistamines can help relieve mouth itching, and studies indicate that allergy shots to the cross-reacting pollens can potentially eliminate OAS symptoms. 

If you think that you may have OAS, talk to your doctor or an allergist. They can help you find the proper treatment to avoid any future reactions. They may also be able to identify any underlying food allergies that may be causing your symptoms.

Why Pollen Count is Important

Even in the thick of pollen season, there may be some days where you feel completely fine. The next day you’re completely miserable with itchy eyes and a congested and stuffy nose.

Why? Because of the changing day-to-day pollen count.

Pollen count is how much pollen, and what kinds of pollen, are in the air on any given day. To determine how much pollen is in the air, a special device like a pollen sampler captures any airborne pollen. It then identifies the type of pollen in the device and calculates approximately how much of it is in the air.

The keyword here is "approximately." And while these numbers are only an estimate— they are a good indicator of which pollen may be triggering your allergy symptoms, and how much of it is floating around.

Knowing what kinds of pollen are in the air can help you prepare for the day, preventing exposure to unwanted allergens that can potentially trigger your allergy.

If you want to check the daily pollen count in your area, we recommend checking Pollen.com. It will provide an "allergy forecast" for your area— low, medium, or high allergy risk— as well as list which allergens are in the air that day.

How to Find Relief From Your Pollen Allergy

If your pollen allergies are preventing you from enjoying the beautiful spring and summer weather, it’s time to take steps to find relief.

Thankfully, there are simple ways to reduce the severity of your symptoms, or even prevent them altogether. 

Here are a few suggestions for allergy relief during pollen season:

  • This goes against what we said earlier about finding relief from allergies if they’re preventing you from enjoying the outdoors, but sometimes it’s best to avoid spending a lot of time outside on high pollen count days. This will reduce how much pollen you're exposed to, and how much you may inhale. Similarly, keep your doors and windows closed to prevent pollen from entering your home.
  • Keep an eye on local pollen levels and plan your day accordingly.
  • Shower before bed each night to rinse off any pollen that may be on your skin or hair.
  • Change out of any clothes you wear during outdoor activities, and wash them promptly. You should also wash your bedsheets once a week in hot water. This removes any lingering pollen that could trigger your allergies.
  • Dry your clothes and bedsheets in the dryer, not on a line outside (if anyone does that anymore) where pollen can stick to the fabric when left outside to dry.
  • If you're feeling stuffy, relieve your congestion with SinuSonic. SinuSonic naturally clears your sinuses with the gentle power of light pressure and acoustic vibrations. Just two minutes once or twice a day with the SinuSonic device can help you decongest and breathe better especially during allergy season.
  • Take an antihistamine. We suggest if you take allergy medication to begin taking it before pollen season. This helps prevent your body from reacting to the pollen and creating symptoms in the first place.

Related: How to Allergy-Proof Your Home

Don't Beat Around the Bush With Pollen

Pollen allergies may be frustratingly common, but they don't have to control your life. A few simple changes during allergy season can be the difference between enjoying spring and summer, or avoiding nature and the outdoors.

Congestion is a common pollen allergy symptom. The right treatment can make handling even the worst nasal congestion a breeze. SinuSonic is a natural, drug-free option that’s safe to use daily, and works better the more you use it. Want to learn more about SinuSonic? Let's get in touch!

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"Pollinators Need You. You Need Pollinators." Pollinator.org, www.pollinator.org/pollinators.

"7 Things You Should Know about Oral Allergy Syndrome." Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, community.aafa.org/blog/7-things-you-should-know-about-oral-allergy-syndrome.