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Pollen allergies, sometimes referred to as “hay fever,” are common, especially in the spring and summer. When the warmer weather rolls around, millions of Americans find themselves dealing with sneezing, itchy/watery eyes, nasal congestion, or a runny nose. If you think you suffer from pollen allergies, continue reading to learn more about what triggers your reaction, as well as helpful treatments and preventative measures you can take.
During the spring and on into the summer and fall, plants start releasing tiny grains of pollen, which is a very fine powder. They’re designed to help fertilize other plants, but these tiny pollen grains are lightweight and small enough to travel via the wind, as well as via birds, insects, and other animals.
Unfortunately, when you breathe in this pollen, your body may view it as a threat, which triggers the immune system and can cause an allergic reaction. For some people, even a few grains of pollen are enough to provoke a reaction.
Inhaling pollen releases water-soluble proteins onto the lining of the respiratory system. Usually, those proteins are harmless. However, they can be mistaken by the body for harmful substances. When this occurs, the body reacts to the perceived threat by creating substances called IgE antibodies. They attach to mast cells within the body, which release histamine, the substance responsible for the symptoms of allergies.
Various types of pollen exist and may affect people differently. Some of the common types of pollen allergies include:
The most common pollen allergy is to grass. However, everyone reacts differently, and some individuals may have symptoms when trees begin to flower, while others may deal with worsening symptoms when grasses begin growing.
Some individuals with pollen allergies may find that they are sensitive to certain types of foods, a condition called oral allergy syndrome. It’s important to talk to your allergist about how your pollen allergies could impact the foods you eat.
People with a pollen allergy who inhale pollen, experience symptoms such as:
For people who have asthma, pollen may aggravate asthma symptoms and lead to wheezing, cough, shortness of breath, or chest tightness.
Typically two different tests are used by allergists to diagnose pollen allergies:
The skin prick test involves placing a small drop of a potential allergen on the skin, then lightly scratching or pricking that spot with a plastic device. Within 15-20 minutes, if you’re allergic to the substance being tested, a small itchy wheal or “hive” will appear at the site of the test. The larger the wheal, the more likely you are allergic to that allergen. In some cases, skin prick testing may be followed by intradermal testing for confirmation. Intradermal testing involves placing a small amount of diluted allergen under the skin using a tiny needle. A similar reaction occurs after 15-20 minutes if you are sensitive to the allergen being tested.
Just remember, a positive reaction to an allergen doesn’t always mean you have an allergy. Your allergist can help determine whether a positive test is clinically relevant.
If you’re taking medicines or have a skin condition that may interfere with the skin prick test, blood tests may be helpful. These tests involve giving a blood sample, which is sent to a lab. The lab adds the allergen to the blood sample and measures the antibodies against that particular allergen in the blood sample.
A variety of different treatments may be used to help treat the symptoms of a pollen allergy. These include:
Medicines, both over the counter and prescription, often help reduce the symptoms of pollen allergies. Some popular medications include:
Allergy shots, which are called subcutaneous immunotherapy, have been very well studied and have been used for decades to help provide relief from and potentially cure pollen allergies. This involves a series of injections that contain larger and larger amounts of a specific allergen to help improve symptoms over time by teaching the immune system to become tolerant to that allergen.
Like allergy shots, sublingual immunotherapy treatment uses tablets containing allergens that are placed beneath the tongue for a minute or two before being swallowed.
Beyond taking medications to treat seasonal allergies, you can take measures to reduce exposure, prevent symptoms, or treat your allergy with home remedies.
Ways to reduce your exposure to pollen include:
When there’s a high pollen count outside (you can often check with your local weather channel), take additional steps to reduce exposure.
While it’s difficult to eliminate all allergens from your indoor air, a few tips that may help include:
If you’re not sure what’s causing your allergies, or if your allergy symptoms are interrupting your daily life, it might be time to see an allergist. Allergists are specially trained to help patients diagnose and treat allergies and other immune issues. Contact the Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center today to book your appointment.
You may be allergic to pollen if you have symptoms like watery eyes or a runny nose around the same time every year. However, only a doctor can diagnose a pollen allergy, which is done using a skin prick test or a blood test called a Specific IgE Blood Test.
Seasonal pollen allergies generally last around three months. According to Cleveland Clinic, tree pollen season usually lasts between March and May, grass pollen season from mid-May to July, and ragweed season between mid-August and the first frost.
The most common types of pollen allergies are tree, grass, and weed allergies. Tree pollen allergies commonly include oak pollen or birch pollen. Grass pollen allergies tend to be some of the most stubborn. And the most common weed allergy is ragweed.
In individuals with pollen allergies, when pollen is breathed in through the respiratory system, the immune system thinks the pollen is a danger to the body. It starts making chemicals to fight the pollen, causing an allergic reaction. Histamines released as a part of this reaction lead to the symptoms of allergies like a stuffy nose, watery eyes, and sneezing.