Spring Allergies

After a winter, we appreciate the following spring with milder temperatures and longer days. However, many people suffering from spring allergies are concerned about exacerbations of their symptoms, resulting from exposure to airborne pollen.

Allergies are the most common chronic diseases in the USA, with one out of four people in this country suffering from them.  We all know somebody who has allergies or have them ourselves.  It can be very uncomfortable to suffer from allergic rhinitis or “hay fever” and sneeze, have a runny nose and watery eyes, associated with exposure to seasonal allergens like pollen.

Pollen has a yellowish color that can be visibly seen when it deposits on surfaces, i.e., cars parked outside. Therefore, many people associate the yellow substance with allergies.  While this is generally a good assumption, not all plants produce allergenic pollen, and people are not sensitized to all of them. For example, pine pollen, which is abundant in many areas, does not cause allergies.

The plants that produce allergenic pollen and their associated pollination seasons vary, depending on particular geographical locations. While many plants generally pollinate during the spring and cause spring allergies to many individuals, other plants release pollen during the summer and fall. Therefore, in several areas seasonal allergies last for many months.

Many factors, associated with particular plant species, are responsible for pollen production and release. Local weather is also responsible for the levels of airborne pollen. For example, rainfall washes off pollen from the air, but wind and warm weather have an opposite effect.

Avoidance of exposure to allergens is generally the first recommendation to prevent allergies.  However, pollen is ubiquitous, and it is not possible to totally avoid exposure to it. Therefore, allergic individuals typically have to take medications and/or follow particular immunotherapy regimens (“allergy shots”), as prescribed by their allergists.

While avoidance of exposure to pollen is difficult, it is feasible to minimize it, at least to some extent. People who suffer from spring allergies normally know what pollen species affect them, as determined by medical tests. Allergic individuals also generally follow the information regarding pollen that the media disseminates regularly.

The information distributed by the media should ideally allow people to minimize exposure to the pollen species they are allergic to. However this information needs to be properly interpreted. First, the specific tree, weed, and grass pollen species present in the air are not often reported; second, pollen counts largely vary in space and time; third, pollen counting stations do not operate everywhere; and fourth, allergic people are selectively sensitized to particular pollen species, and do not experience the same symptoms upon exposure. Pollen counts should be interpreted as a “trend” in time.