What Exactly Is a Pollen Allergy?

Guest Author: Kristen Stewart

A lot of people get the sniffles seasonally. They might blame it on catching a cold. And they might not have the same symptoms as a lot of other people, too. But there’s reason to dive deeper into what those symptoms are and whether or not they might be something different than a cold – namely, seasonal allergies, such as a reaction to pollen.


   Pollen is a natural substance; if you’ve ever looked at a flower bloom you’ve probably seen pollen. It’s yellow and acts as a fertilizer between male and female plants. It’s definitely on the upswing in spring, summer, and fall, and it’s incredibly common across the country. When it gets hotter and windier, it blows around, too, making it almost impossible to avoid. That means tens of millions of people are likely to have some reaction to pollen.

Want to know more about it?

This graphic explains it.

SYMPTOMS OF A POLLEN ALLERGY

Allergies occur when harmless water-soluble proteins released by pollen enter the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and mouth. If you’re susceptible to allergies, your immune system mistakes pollen for invading germs. Your body triggers a complex process whereby it generates chemicals such as histamine to irritate the nerves, which leads to itching and sneezing in an attempt to expel the pollen.5 6

Symptoms of a pollen allergy vary from person to person. You may experience bouts of sneezing. This seemingly annoying reaction helps physically expel the pollen from your system, and it also serves as a red flag to tell you there is a high pollen count and you should leave the area if possible.7 In conjunction with sneezing, you may experience additional issues with your nose and eyes. To learn more about these symptoms, visit our Understanding Allergy Symptoms page.8Pollen Allergy Symptoms.

SUSCEPTIBILITY TO A POLLEN ALLERGY

Many people wonder if pollen allergies are genetic. Researchers are still studying this question, but studies suggest that yes, a hereditary component is involved. Having a blood relative with allergies or asthma increases your risk of having one or more allergies — though the specific type is not passed down, just the increased odds. To complicate the matter more, prolonged exposure to the allergen also plays a role in whether or not you develop allergies. Even if you have a genetic susceptibility, you may not develop a problem if you mostly avoid the allergen. Having asthma, atopic dermatitis, and/or allergies to other triggers can also increase your risk.9

If you’ve made it into your 20s, 30s, or 40s without allergies, you may wonder if you’re home free. Not necessarily. It is possible for adults to develop allergies to pollen and other triggers even into middle age. In general, the number of individuals suffering from hay fever is increasing in both the United States and around the world.10

Experts aren’t sure why numbers are rising but speculate more airborne pollutants and dust mite populations coupled with less ventilation in our homes and workplaces could play a role. Unhealthy habits including poor diet and not enough exercise may also contribute. The hygiene hypothesis — the idea that we live and eat in a relatively sanitary environment, so our immune systems don’t have enough work to do and instead overreact to allergens — is another possibility. Other theories include finally reaching an exposure threshold for an allergy to develop, living in a new area with different trees, plants, and grasses, or adopting a pet.11

Once you reach middle age, however, your chance of developing allergies to pollen decreases. The immune system weakens as you grow older, so it’s less likely for it to experience a hyper-allergic reaction.12

TREATMENT OF POLLEN ALLERGIES

The good news? There are many ways you can manage and treat pollen allergies.

CONCLUSION

Life with allergies is miserable but instead of waiting for pollen to stop falling to resume your activities, try some of these suggestions to take charge of your life today. Maybe you’ll find spring isn’t so bad after all.


Kristen Stewart

Kristen Stewart is a freelance writer specializing in health and lifestyle topics. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, three kids and two very needy cats.


[1]https://www.aafa.org/allergy-facts/
[2]https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/pollination
[3]https://www.aafa.org/pollen-allergy/
[4]https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions-dictionary/pollen
[5]https://www.ecarf.org/en/information-portal/allergies-overview/pollen-allergy/
[6]https://www.zyrtec.com/allergy-guide/understanding-allergies/types/why-pollen-causes-sneezing
[7]https://www.zyrtec.com/allergy-guide/understanding-allergies/types/why-pollen-causes-sneezing
[8]https://www.ecarf.org/en/information-portal/allergies-overview/pollen-allergy/
[9]https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hay-fever/symptoms-causes/syc-20373039
[10]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4829390/
[11]https://acaai.org/news/rise-spring-allergies-fact-or-fiction
[12]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5362176/
[13]https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions-dictionary/pollen
[14]https://www.zyrtec.com/allergy-guide/outdoors/best-times-low-pollen-count
[15]https://www.zyrtec.com/allergy-guide/understanding-allergies/types/weed-pollen
[16]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5423906/
[17]https://www.aafa.org/pollen-allergy/
[18]https://acaai.org/allergies/allergy-treatment/air-filters
[19]https://www.zyrtec.com/allergy-guide/understanding-allergies/types/weed-pollen
[20]https://www.aafa.org/pollen-allergy/
[21]https://www.zyrtec.com/allergy-guide/understanding-allergies/types/weed-pollen
[22]https://www.aafa.org/pollen-allergy/
[23]https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000549.htm
[24]https://blogs.bcm.edu/2014/06/25/ten-tips-to-avoid-sinus-infections/
[25]https://acaai.org/allergies/allergy-treatment/allergy-immunotherapy/allergy-shots

Thank you for sharing Kristin!
Sincerely,
Sarah