Airborne pollen grains are a major trigger of many allergic symptoms. Pollen grains are reproductive structures of seed bearing plants. Most pollens of allergic importance are wind-borne and too small to be seen by the naked eye. If the pollen is easily seen, it is usually too large as well as too heavy to be an important allergen. Most plants with windborne pollen are drab with inconspicuous flowers. Generally, the heavy pollens of showy plants with colorful, fragrant flowers require insect transport.
The first pollens appearing in the spring in the Northeast are tree pollens. They begin to appear in mid-March and are present into June. Maple, poplar, and ash are the earliest pollens beginning in April. In late April, May, and early June, birch and oak pollens are present in the air. Each tree species produces pollen differently from other species, with a variation in the intensity, duration and seasonal pattern of pollination.
In the springtime, people often notice their cars are covered with yellow pollen. This large, waxy pollen released from pine trees is not particularly problematic for tree allergy patients. Likewise, the fuzzy seed balls seen in the air in May and June do not cause allergy problems.
Grass Pollens begin to appear in late May. This season tends to peak in June and then low levels of pollen are present throughout the summer months. In the northeastern states, the majority of grass pollen comes from blue grass, orchard grass, timothy grass, and red top.
Ragweed Pollen becomes airborne from mid-August through September, which is also hay baling season. “Hay Fever” is not associated with hay but with ragweed pollination in late summer and early fall.
Throughout the pollen season, even mild winds can carry pollen for many miles and produce high concentrations in urban areas, far from their rural and suburban sources.
What can be done about pollen allergy symptoms?
Using air conditioning can cut down on the amount of pollen inside the house and the car. Over-the counter antihistamines can be helpful. There are anti-inflammatory nasal sprays, antihistamine nasal sprays, decongestant products, and eye drops that can help alleviate symptoms. Allergy shots, drops and tablets (immunotherapy) can be very helpful in reducing sensitivity to pollen.
Best Practices for Pollen Sensitivities
• During the pollen season keep all windows in your home and car closed. This is particularly useful during the night hours to prevent pollens and molds from drifting into your home. Instead, use air conditioning, which cools, cleans and dries the air. Avoid the use of fans, which will increase the amount of airborne pollen and result in increased symptoms.
• HEPA air cleaners may be helpful when air conditioning is unavailable.
• Stay indoors on high pollen days and especially on windy days. Avoid early morning activity when pollens are usually emitted (between 5am – 10am).
• When vacationing during the height of the pollen season, choose places such as the beach or seacoast, which contain less pollen.
• Remember that pollen is sticky and will adhere to your clothes and body until washed off. Showering after long exposure and rinsing your hair before going to bed to remove pollens that have accumulated during outdoor exposure is helpful. When working outdoors, wear a mask when raking leaves or mowing the lawn.
• Take the medications prescribed by your allergist regularly, in the recommended doses. Don’t take more medication than is recommended to relieve your symptoms.
• Don’t hang your clothing outside to dry. Pollens and molds will collect on them.