More than 17 million adults in the United States were diagnosed with hay fever in 2010. Seasonal hay fever can be triggered by pollen from trees, grasses and weeds. Pollen is one of the most common allergens, causing reactions such as sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, and even coughs.
What is pollen? Pollen, produced by plants during reproduction, comes from seed plants. Cone-bearing plants and flowering plants both produce pollen. Each pollen grain has two layers, an inner and outer layer. The surface of the outer layer is how it can be identified. Pollen is like a fine powder and is moved through the air by wind or carried by insects to fertilize other plants. However, as pollen travels through the air, it can be inhaled by people and cause allergic reactions.
Grass, ragweed and tree pollen. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services, the most common allergy-causing grasses are Bermuda, Johnson, Kentucky bluegrass, Orchard, Sweet vernal and Timothy. Factors affecting grass pollen levels include rain, temperature and time of day. Pollen levels from ragweed peak during mid-September, but can be a threat to allergy sufferers from the beginning of August through October. Tree pollen may begin its air travels in January in some southern states and May in the northern states. Several trees produce pollen that may cause allergic reactions. These include but are not limited to elm, hickory, pecan, sycamore, box elder, maple, poplar and willow.
Why does pollen make me sneeze? Airborne pollen lands on mucous membranes, beginning a chain reaction. When an allergen creates a reaction, the immune system sometimes overreacts by “producing Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies,” explains the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. The IgE antibodies move into cells and release “histamine and other chemicals, causing an allergic reaction.”
Pollen transfer. You may find yourself sneezing more from pollen allergies on days that are hot, windy and rain-free. Pollen dispersion is strongest in this type of weather. To help reduce the transfer of pollen, you can avoid being outdoors in the early morning when pollen counts are at their highest. When outdoors during pollen season, wash your hands and face when returning indoors and/or change clothing to avoid allergic reactions. Forgo drying laundry outdoors, as pollen will stick to the clothing. Be aware of the pollen count in your area by checking the local and national pollen forecast map at Pollen.com.
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