Pollen allergy: an update

Published on 17/04/2018

Pollen allergy_ an update

With the change of season, you may have noticed that your nose is sometimes congested, that you tend to sneeze a lot more than usual, and that you also have to blow your nose. This is probably a sign that you have what is commonly called “hay fever”, a type of allergy to pollen in the air.

What is pollen?

To understand the mechanism of a pollen allergy, it is important to understand what pollen is, and how it triggers an allergic reaction. Pollen is actually a fine, yellow, powdery substance found on trees, flowers, grasses, and other types of plants. It is the plant version of a gamete or male sperm. The purpose of pollen is to be picked up by the wind and transported to the surrounding plants to fertilize them. Pollen is produced seasonally. In addition, its production levels peak in the spring and are lower in the summer. However, each plant species has its own pollination period during which it produces pollen. Pollen is an extremely important part of agriculture, as well as plant growth, but unfortunately it is a bad omen for seasonal allergy sufferers, as it is in fact an allergen.

Why do people develop pollen allergies?

Allergies are disorders of the immune system that cause symptoms in people who are sensitized to a specific allergen. Like pollen, an allergen is a substance that triggers an immune response, producing symptoms such as a runny nose or itchy eyes. Pollen is the most common allergen. Therefore, hay fever is the most common allergy. The medical term for pollen allergy is allergic rhinitis. There are a variety of factors that contribute to the development of an allergy. These can be subdivided into two categories: endogenous factors, or environmental factors.
Endogenous factors include genetic predisposition to the development of allergic reactions. People are more likely to develop allergies if a first-degree relative has allergies. The term “atopic triad” is sometimes used to designate eczema, allergic rhinitis and asthma that appear successively or sometimes simultaneously in the same individual. Thus, people with one allergy are more likely to develop one of the other two. Environmental factors include being in an environment with a specific allergen that can trigger a response in a host.
While most allergies develop in the first two decades of life, a pollen allergy can develop at any stage of life. Exposure to different allergens allows you to develop a sensitivity to them.

How do I know if I am allergic to pollen?

As you read this article, you are probably wondering if the symptoms you experience every year at the same time are possibly those of a pollen allergy. However, some of the signs and symptoms you are experiencing indicate that you may have a pollen allergy. These symptoms include, but are not limited to:

    • nasal congestion
    • headaches
    • a runny nose
    • runny, itchy eyes
    • a sore throat
    • a cough due to post-nasal secretions

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is advisable to consult an allergist. The latter is able to carry out a series of skin tests, during which he takes a small quantity of known plant allergens and introduces them into the skin. This test identifies a specific pollen allergen that causes allergic rhinitis, and therefore guides the treatment of the allergy.

You suffer from a pollen allergy, what should you do?

There is no cure for pollen allergies, or any other allergy. There are two options, prevention and symptom control. Prevention strategies include tips and tricks to reduce the amount of pollen you inhale.
To do this:

    • Use your air conditioner, instead of opening doors and windows. If possible, try to keep doors and windows closed so that pollen does not enter the house. Your air conditioner should be equipped with a high efficiency filter for airborne particles, which humidifies the air, and kills pollen spores.
    • When you return home, remove your clothes and shoes immediately and place them in the washing machine. Take a shower or bath to wash away pollen particles that cling to your hair and skin, and can cause allergic symptoms while you sleep.
    • Avoid going outdoors during seasons that are characterized by peak pollination. Check the local pollen count daily to see when the highest levels are expected.
    • During the pollen season, try to keep your pets indoors, as they have thick fur that can harbor millions of pollen particles. If they do go outside, keep them from running into bushes, grass or fields.

Despite all these efforts, it is sometimes impossible to avoid pollen. This is when you start to develop these annoying symptoms, which can cause a lot of irritation, prevent a good night’s sleep, and disturb your concentration. It is then time to consider solutions to relieve the symptoms. There are a few “home” remedies, such as lemon and honey tea to soothe the throat, and nasal irrigation with a salt solution to reduce nasal congestion. Other options may also be considered, including consulting your health care provider to prescribe medication to relieve some of the symptoms, if necessary.

If you want to learn more about pollen allergies, have a skin test, or need medication to relieve your symptoms, then it is best to consult your doctor.

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