Spring – A Time for Love … and Pollen

Pollen_from_pine_tree

A pine tree releases up to five lbs. of pollen, which will be distributed for miles by the wind. February is the start of pollen season. (Image source:Wikipedia)

Whether you’re eagerly anticipating the end of the freeze and the arrival of spring, or dreading it, depends almost entirely on whether you have allergies. If you’re an allergy sufferer, you may already be experiencing those dreaded symptoms; February is the official kickoff of pollen season for trees in many parts of the country.

So what is pollen anyway, and why does it make you feel so miserable? If it didn’t make you feel like sticking your head in the sand until the scorching summer months, the answer would be, if not romantic then at least a little racy. Pollen is a collection of powdery grains made up of microscopic proteins that male tree parts release into their air with the hope of pollinating female tree parts … ideally of a different tree. The wind carries these grains for miles, dispersing them over the terrain to find the perfect mate(s) and increase the chance of successful reproduction. Since this is a very hit or miss delivery technique (slightly more so than an internet dating service), trees — and other plants — release millions of grains of pollen. Put enough pollen out there and, like with internet dating, eventually something good will happen.

With all that pollen circulating in the air looking for companionship, it’s inevitable that sooner or later some will come in contact with your respiratory system. Since the pollen is a normal part of the environment, your body should just be able to ignore it and carry on with little more than an occasional sneeze. However, a pollen-allergic immune system mistakes pollen as a serious invader and immediately summons defenses to fight it off. The result is a wall of mucous and swelling designed to keep the invaders out and a barrage of symptoms that may include runny nose, congestion, sinus headaches, conjunctivitis, skin rashes, coughing, and asthma flare ups; they’re often worse than the symptoms of an internet match gone wrong!

There are a variety of treatment options to quell these symptoms. You can find more details about them in our Which Allergy Treatment is Right For You post. But seeing as it is virtually impossible to avoid these mate-seeking airborne grains, allergic patients should strongly consider the only solution that is actually a “cure” because it teaches your body to ignore pollen season after season: immunotherapy. That’s important considering that at this very moment, pollen from Ash, Alder and Juniper trees, among others, may be swirling around your home. Too bad we can’t offer immunity to bad matches on the internet scene. Welcome to spring!

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