What is a Pollen Allergy?
An allergy to pollen is more widespread compared to allergies to some foods, drugs, household dust, chemicals and other substances. The latter allergens can easily be avoided to prevent allergic reactions, but with a pollen allergy, it is a different story.
Pollen allergies are seasonal. Plants produce pollen grains around the same time every year in order to reproduce, either in spring, summer, or fall. These tiny pollen particles are released and carried away by the air to other plants for fertilization. Because pollens are windborne, they can easily be inhaled by humans, thus triggering allergic reactions.
There is no easy way to avoid pollens in the air the way you would avoid other allergens. Staying indoors will not be much help either. A pollen allergy is practically inescapable.
What types of pollens cause allergies?
Plants that produce allergenic pollens are those that are plain-looking and do not have attractive, brightly colored flowers. Under a microscope, allergenic pollens can be distinguished as light, dry granules that are built for wind transport. Pollens produced by flowering plants are not known to cause allergies because they manufacture pollens that are too heavy and sticky to be carried away by the air.
Weeds are the most abundant allergenic pollen producers, especially in the North American region. Ragweed is the most common. Others include the English plantain, Russian thistle (tumbleweed), burning bush, lamb’s quarters, sagebrush, redroot pigweed, dock, and mugwort.
Grasses and trees are also significant sources of allergenic pollens. Allergenic grasses include timothy grass, sweet vernal grass, orchard grass, Kentucky bluegrass, Johnson grass, Bermuda grass, redtop grass, perennial ryegrass, fescue, and salt grass. Trees that produce allergenic pollen include oak, ash, elm, hickory, pecan, cypress, hazel, birch, maple, box elder, and mountain cedar.
But not all weeds, grasses, and trees are allergenic. The allergenic qualities of the pollen are determined by the plant’s capacity to produce huge amounts during its pollinating period, as well as the chemical make-up of the granules. Ragweed produces millions of pollen daily, and can be transported through the air miles away from its location. However, pine trees, in particular, also produce huge amounts of pollen, but are mildly allergenic, because its pollens are heavy and fall down to the ground immediately before the wind can carry it away.
How do you know if you have a pollen allergy?
You can diagnose pollen sensitivity depending on the season. The most common symptom is seasonal allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever. The condition manifests in the throat, nose, larynx, trachea, and bronchioles. When the pollens enter the nose, the effect would be nasal congestion, sneezing, and nasal discharge. You will notice allergic shiners, or dark circles under the eyes caused by increased blood flow near the sinuses. A case of conjunctivitis can also develop, coupled with post nasal drip, mental dullness, and fatigue. The throat becomes itchy, and hoarseness and loss of voice can occur.
But when the airways are affected, tracheitis, asthma, and bronchitis can result.
If you suspect that you have pollen allergy, it would be best to see your healthcare provider as soon as possible so that proper medication or treatment can be prescribed.