To Sneeze or Not to Sneeze — Pollen is not just a springtime nuisance

By Dr. Nancy Yoon, Chief Medical Officer at Springfield-Greene County Health

When pollen season begins in the spring, an estimated 60 million people per year in the U.S. begin having the telltale signs of pollen allergies: sneezing, runny nose, watery, itchy eyes and congestion. And for many, those symptoms continue through the summer and well into fall.

In fact, exposure to pollen, which is the grains or tiny seeds of flowering plants, trees, and grasses, can last into November and start as early as January in some states. It can be extremely frustrating for some and severely impact people’s quality of life, especially those who have asthma.

Right now in August, people with summer allergies to mold spores may be having a lot of symptoms, due to the levels being high.

Every weekday during pollen season, typically from late March to November, Springfield-Greene County Health releases pollen levels for mold, grass, trees and weeds so that you can plan for the days when your worst pollen-offender is high.

Tree pollen is highest during April, while grass pollen is highest in June. Next month in September is when weed pollen is usually highest.

You may be asking; how do I know if I have pollen allergies?

Well, doctors use two types of tests to determine if a pollen allergy: skin prick test (SPT) or a blood test.

An SPT is when a doctor or nurse places a small drop of a possible allergen on your skin before lightly pricking or scratching through the drop with a needle. If your skin turns red, swollen, or becomes itchy, then you’ve got a positive SPT. The doctor then must ensure that the time and place of your symptoms matches your skin test results to determine if you have an allergy.

An alternative to an SPT is a specific IgE blood test. It is helpful for those who have skin conditions or are taking medicines that interfere with skin testing. A blood sample is taken and sent to a lab which then adds an allergen to the sample. The number of antibodies against the allergens is then measured.

So, you have a pollen allergy — now what?

A few ways you can minimize your allergy symptoms are:

· Limit your outdoor activities when pollen counts are high. You can always check the Health Department’s pollen count to see what the numbers are. Pollen is taken at 8:00 a.m. every weekday morning during the pollen season and is a great tool to utilize when determining how your allergies will fair that day.

· Change and wash clothes worn during outdoor activities. This helps prevent bringing pollen into the house and making a home on your clothes. Shower daily before going to bed. This will remove pollen from your body and keep it off your bedding.

· Wash bedding in hot, soapy water once a week.

· Wear sunglasses and cover your hair when going outside. Just like clothes, pollen particles can cling to your hair too, so covering your hair is a nice hack to keep pollen from traveling with you.

· Keep windows closed during pollen season or peak pollen times. Pollen counts typically peak by midday or early afternoon. The higher the concentration, the worse your allergies can be, so keep windows closed during this timeframe to prevent allergy symptoms.

· Take any allergy medications as prescribed by your healthcare provider.

· Consider using high-efficiency filters in your home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.

Pollen season still has at least two more months left, but as our changing climate affects pollen levels, that may shift in the future. Precipitation patterns matter when it comes to pollen levels, and our changing climate is impacting those patterns too. Precipitation like rain can break up clumps of pollen into smaller particles which then quickly disperse resulting in an increase in allergy symptoms.

Pollen may seem like a simple, frustrating problem reserved for the spring and summer, but for some, and maybe for the next generation, it can become a much more serious issue if left unchecked.

There is a ton of information out there about seasonal allergies and pollen counts, but always talk to your doctor if you think you may have allergies. They can help find a solution or recommend allergy medications or other treatments that may help reduce your allergy symptoms.

Sources: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

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