Summer time…and you’re living with pollen allergy
It's that time of the year again and your hay fever is flaring up. Pollen allergy, or hay fever, as it is more commonly known, can be a real drag. The type of pollen that you are exposed to depends on where you are and what season it is. We’ve prepared a guide to what causes pollen allergy and the treatments that could help you better manage your symptoms.
What is pollen?
Pollen is the fine powder released from plants that is spread by wind, bees or insects to fertilise other plants of the same species. Pollen is a major cause of allergy.
What is pollen allergy?
If you have pollen allergy, your immune system reacts to the pollen in the air you breathe. The immune system misinterprets these harmless substances as dangerous and tries to get rid of them. This leads to symptoms of pollen allergy like sneezing, runny nose and congestion.
Symptoms of pollen allergy
Typical symptoms include:
- Nasal congestion (a blocked nose)
- Runny nose
- Itchy nose, palate and throat
- Post-nasal drip (the feeling of mucus moving down the back of your throat)
Additionally, other symptoms might occur.
- Itchy, red or watery eyes
- Tight chest or wheezing
Pollen allergy and oral allergy syndrome
Some people with pollen allergy may also experience oral allergy syndrome with certain foods. This means that your pollen allergy cross-reacts with a particular protein in your food that the body recognises as similar to a pollen protein. If you have oral allergy syndrome, you may notice itching, swelling or scratchiness of the mouth, face, lips, tongue and throat soon after you eat a certain fruit, vegetable or nut.
Which pollen causes allergy?
Waxy pollen from bright, colourful flowers does not usually cause allergy. It’s the fine pollen from trees, grasses and weeds that can lead to allergic conditions. These types of pollen can travel great distances in the air and hit your nose when you least expect it. Pollen grains are 15-40 μm in size, or about a quarter to a half of a diameter of a human hair.
Pollen can travel long distances. Scientists have collected some types of pollen over 600 kilometres out at sea and 3 kilometres up in the air! To make matters worse, a single plant can release millions of pollen grains in a day.
What types of pollen are there?
The different types of pollen that cause pollen allergy are:
- Grass pollen: common meadow grass, meadow foxtail, sweet vernal grass, soft brome, wild oat, Timothy grass, ryegrass, Bermuda grass
- Tree pollen: birch, hazel, alder, ash, olive, cypress, oak
- Weed pollen: nettle, ragweed, mugwort
Not all of the plants mentioned here grow in the British Isles. The type of pollen that you are exposed to depends on the season and where you are. Grass pollen is widespread in north-western and central Europe, the mountains and the Mediterranean. Birch tree pollen is most common in regions such as north-western and central areas of Europe. Weed pollen is particularly common in eastern Europe but can be found virtually anywhere.
When do pollen allergy symptoms arise?
The timing of your pollen allergy symptoms depends on the type of pollen you are allergic to and when its flowering season is. Trees typically flower in spring, so you’ll be sneezing soon after winter lifts if you have tree pollen allergy. Grass pollen is highest in summer, making allergy sufferers miserable that they can’t go enjoy the fine weather outdoors. Weed pollen is highest during the autumn months.
What is the most common cause of pollen allergy in the UK?
In the UK, grass pollen is the most common cause of pollen allergy in the summer months. Tree pollen allergy is also very common with birch tree pollen taking the lead. However, birch is not the only culprit for tree pollen allergy in the UK: pollen from a number of other trees – for example, oak and alder – can also cause allergy, especially in the spring.
Check our Klara app for daily pollen counts and a comprehensive allergy calendar so that you can plan ahead.
Other airborne irritants
Pollen is not the only thing in the air that can cause those pesky sniffles. Major causes of allergy found in outdoor air also include for example moulds. Additionally, air pollutants can make people with allergy feel worse and may bind to pollen grains, making them more reactive.
What can you do about your pollen allergy?
You can try to avoid contact with the pollen that triggers your allergy. Additionally, there are various drug-free methods and medicines to manage your symptoms. You can mix and match and find what combination works for you. Below, we look at some of the solutions used for dealing with pollen allergy.
Check pollen counts daily
If you are allergic to pollen and the pollen count is high, it may be a good idea to spend less time outside and stay indoors with the windows closed. However, pollen affects everyone differently. It is possible that you could go out on a day with a high pollen count and have no symptoms, or that you could go out on a day with a low count and suffer from symptoms of allergy. In the Klara app, you can log your allergy symptoms daily and the Klara smiley will show your personalised pollen score.
Check the weather for the day
Weather patterns affect the amount of pollen in the air. Wind, humidity and rain are the most important factors to consider. For example, dry, windy weather means that pollen counts go up, which could influence how you feel that day. That means glorious spring and summer days are often associated with high pollen counts. If you're affected, you might have to say no to that sunny afternoon picnic in the park.
Use a pollen calendar
It’s a good idea to find out which type of pollen causes your allergy. You can talk to your GP about that. When you know what pollen you are allergic to, you can plan your activities around that particular pollination period. Check the allergy calendar in the Klara app to see when each plant is typically flowering.
Keep pollen out of your eyes and nose when you head outside
If you have to go out on a day with high pollen counts and you’re worried about your allergy being aggravated, you can try to reduce your exposure to pollen. Try wearing wrap-around sunglasses and consider a face mask or a more discrete nasal filter to protect your airways.
Simple tricks to keep pollen out of your home
Reducing the amount of pollen that gets into your home is key to managing your symptoms:
- Keep windows and doors closed whenever you can
- Air your rooms when the pollen count is low
- Consider installing air conditioning or using special air purifiers
- Wash your hair before going to bed and leave your clothes outside your bedroom
- Don't dry laundry outside. Use a tumble dryer or hang your laundry inside your home instead
Drug-free relief for pollen allergy
A saline nose rinse may ease nasal symptoms of pollen allergy. If allergens have already entered your nasal passages, nasal irrigation can help flush them out and keep the sensitive tissue clean. This may reduce irritation and hay fever symptoms. You can try NasoFree® nasal irrigator, an easy-squeeze bottle specially designed for rinsing the nose and paranasal sinuses.
You can also try nasal filters or nasal cellulose sprays to help keep pollen out of your nose. These can stop an allergic reaction by limiting contact with airborne allergens in your nose . Clinical studies have shown that our nasal filter, RHINIX™, can prevent allergy symptoms including sneezing, itchy nose, runny nose, watery eyes and drowsiness – while our Allergen Blocker nasal cellulose spray has been proven effective in more than 28 clinical trials.
Because all of these products are drug-free, they are non-drowsy and can be used alongside any other steps you're taking to relieve your hay fever symptoms. A gentle way to manage your symptoms without medication.
Medication for pollen allergy
You can also use medications like antihistamines, decongestants and nasal sprays to relieve allergy symptoms. You may find that one particular antihistamine works better for you than others. Ask your GP or pharmacist to find an antihistamine that suits you. Decongestants should not be used for more than a few days in a row.
Talk to your GP about your symptoms. Your doctor can prescribe medication that is not available over the counter. Your GP can also refer you to a specialist for further investigation and treatment.
Long-term relief with specialist treatments
If you find your pollen allergy symptoms are not adequately covered by your current medical treatment, what next? Well, there may be specialist treatments available as an alternative.
Your allergy specialist may suggest immunotherapy. Allergy immunotherapy treats the underlying cause of pollen allergy through controlled, repeated exposure to the allergens. This helps your body to build up tolerance to the substance that causes your allergy.
For more information about allergy immunotherapy, including possible side effects, talk it through with your GP.
If you’ve read all the way to the end of this article, thank you. And we’d love to know what you think. Have you tried any of the tips or products we’ve suggested? Or do you have any of your own that you’d like to share with others? Head over to our Facebook page or email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) and share your story.
1359CCb June 2019