When Pollen Strikes!

When the wind blows, the pollen inside these sacks will be released, filling the air for miles.

When the wind blows, the pollen inside these sacks will be released, filling the air for miles.

One of the major causes of allergic disease, such as allergic rhinitis (also known as hay fever), is airborne pollen. All plants produce some pollen as part of their reproductive cycle. There are thousands of plant species that grow in the United States but only a small number of those are significant sources of allergenic pollen. Plants that DO produce important allergens have several characteristics in common: First, they are wind pollinated rather than insect pollinated. Next, they produce pollen that is buoyant and is spread readily by the wind. Because wind pollination is relatively inefficient, these types of plants have to produce huge quantities of pollen to keep their species alive.

To be clinically important, allergenic plants must be abundant in an area. Trees such as oak and maple grow over hundreds of acres with pollen traveling up to 200 miles; ragweed can colonize large fields and affect patients for many miles around; and grass allergens can cover hundreds of acres. Despite what your nose and eyes may suggest, brightly colored flowers are rarely allergenic. Often they are insect pollinated, and they typically don’t produce pollen that can be spread by the wind. However, the pollen from allergenically important plants lands all over their beautiful flowers, and THAT pollen is what your body rejects when you stop to smell the roses. Those pollens are also often at least part of the cause of your allergic symptoms when you snuggle up to your favorite pet. Fur is a great landing spot for all kinds of pollen!

Tree pollen allergy affects millions of people. Many allergenic trees are abundant and large, shedding and spreading huge quantities of pollen. Typically, trees shed their pollen in the spring and are the first species each year to affect patients. In warmer climates, like California and Florida, pollen season often begins in February. With the late winter on the east coast this year, pollen season there is just reaching full swing.

Because pollen can travel so far, it can be difficult to determine the exact cause of your allergies. That’s where an allergy test and evaluation comes in. We encourage you to ask your doctor about an allergy skin test — a painless procedure than can tell you in just 15 minutes specifically what you are allergic to. If your doctor doesn’t offer this test in his or her office, AllerVision can help you find one who does — or can talk to your doctor on your behalf.

If pollen is the cause of your allergies, it’s virtually impossible to avoid. You can take medication to temporarily alleviate symptoms. But with medication you’re only covering the symptoms up, and next time you encounter the pollen you’ll have the same reaction. Immunotherapy, on the other hand, teaches your immune system to ignore the pollen and thereby puts your allergies into remission — usually for years or decades. You can learn more about immunotherapy here.

Pollen from trees, grasses and weeds are likely to keep your immune system busy until the fall or winter, and then return again next year. Now that you know what you’re up against, you may want to ask your provider about immunotherapy — so you can enjoy the great outdoors instead of suffering from it.

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This blog includes information from ALK-Abelló “Virtual Pollen Guide” DVD, used with permission. The company offers a helpful patient education website at fightthecauseofallergy.org

 

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