What is the cause, and symptoms of Pollen Allergies?
Most of us have a love-hate relationship with pollen. On the one hand, it’s the primary building block of all the foods we enjoy. Without it, plants couldn’t reproduce. On the other, it sticks to nearly everything and makes some of us sneeze!
Sadly, pollen’s ability to weasel its way into the tiniest crevices extends to our bodies as well. When you hear people talk about springtime allergies, they’re most likely referring to a pollen allergy. When they aren’t stuck to your windows, pollen particles can work their way into our noses and lungs, causing those pesky allergy symptoms we all hate.
What is Pollen?
By definition, pollen is the plant equivalent of human sperm. The male part of flowers releases minuscule pollen particles which are meant to fertilize the female ovule or egg. Plants rely on the wind, insects, and other animals to transport pollen.
Biologically speaking, that’s why it seems to be everywhere. Pollen has evolved to adhere itself to nearly any surface far and wide, all in search of a female ovule to fertilize. And while that’s a major plus for farmers, it’s not so nice for those of us suffering from pollen allergies.
Pollen comes in two types: entomophilous pollen and anemophilous pollen.
Entomophilous pollen typically isn’t associated with allergies. Instead, it refers to the type of pollen insects, like bees, can pick up and transfer from plant to plant. Plants such as cacti, kiwis, and potatoes rely on this type of pollen.
Anemophilous pollen, on the other hand, is the pesky version that plagues allergy sufferers. Rather than being carried by insects, it relies on the wind to spread throughout the environment. As a result, it has evolved to reach (and never leave) the far corners of the Earth. This type of pollen is most often produced by grasses and grains, common sources of springtime allergies.
What Are Pollen Allergies?
Having pollen allergies, or hay fever means that you experience an allergic reaction when exposed to pollen particles. Because they’re so small and light, they are able to travel through the air and make their way into your lungs via your nose and mouth.
You experience an allergic reaction because your immune system falsely believes pollen is dangerous. In an attempt to fight against the “foreign invader”, your immune system releases antibodies to attack the pollen particles. This produces a chemical known as histamine, which causes traditional allergy symptoms.
When having an allergic reaction due to hay fever, you can expect a variety of symptoms. Their presence and severity depend on how much pollen you’re exposed to, and how allergic you are as an individual. Common allergy symptoms include watery eyes, runny nose, sore throat, coughing, mucus, headaches, inflammation, and asthma.
However, pollen allergies vary from person to person. Not everyone reacts as severely, and most people are only allergic to certain types of pollen. That means you may only experience hay fever during certain seasons when the plants you’re personally allergic to are blooming.
The easiest way to tackle your pollen allergy is to be aware of what causes it. Having allergy testing performed can help you find out which plants affect you the most. This means you’ll be able to avoid them and even seek targeted allergy treatments.
In the springtime, most pollen is coming from trees. During the summer, grass pollen spreads through the air. And in the fall, pollen from weeds tends to be most prevalent. As a result, knowing when your allergies act up is a great indicator of what type(s) of pollen you’re allergic to.
If your hay fever flares in the spring, you could be allergic to trees such as birch, oak, alder, cedar, hazelnut, willow, olive, and hornbeam. But if allergies rear their head in the summer, ryegrass and timothy grass may be to blame. And for those of us who suffer in the fall, weeds like ragweed, nettle, mugwort, and sorrel are the likely culprits.
The area you live in may also impact the severity of pollen allergies. If your hometown isn’t windy and gets a lot of rain, most of the pollen will be washed away before it reaches you. However, those in very windy and dry climates will ingest much more pollen on a daily basis. This is one reason allergies sometimes don’t flare up until you move to a new town!
What Makes Pollen Allergies So Common?
Allergies seemingly serve no purpose and are just a flaw in our immune systems. Our bodies mistakenly label a harmless substance as dangerous and go into overdrive whenever we ingest it. As a result, it’s shocking that twenty percent of Americans find themselves allergic to pollen.
And while we have a lot of questions about how common hay fever is, we don’t have too many concrete answers. Scientists have no idea where allergies come from, but many theories about this immune system flaw.
There’s nothing special about pollen, aside from how much of it exists in the world. It doesn’t stand out compared to allergic reactions to things like peanuts and seafood. In fact, the extent to which we’re exposed to it should mean we’ve become desensitized.
Some people may just have a genetic predisposition to allergies. Their immune systems have inherited coding that encourages kicking into overdrive. And that theory makes sense considering how often multiple allergies are present at once.
Another theory suggests that hay fever is the result of being exposed to pollen while fighting off a virus such as a cold. Your immune system is trying to fight off the virus and begins to associate the pollen with said virus. As a result, it labels the pollen as harmful and leaves you with a lifelong allergy.
Some research also considers the impact our childhoods can have on allergies in adulthood. Research shows that children who aren’t exposed to allergens like pet hair tend to develop allergies to it later in life. Because they were never exposed, their bodies never got the chance to get used to the allergen. However, this wouldn’t make sense given how commonplace pollen is.