Pollen allergy: how to minimize this problem
Every year, when spring arrives, the itchy nose, palate, throat and neck also arrive. The nose becomes blocked and produces a clear watery discharge. The eyes water and become red. Sneezing follows one another…
These are typical symptoms of seasonal allergies, including the most common one: the pollen allergy. It is essentially an exaggerated reaction of our body to pollen grains when they come into contact with our body, namely the eyes, and enter through the respiratory tract.
Why are we allergic to pollen?
Pollen is a very fine powder produced by trees, flowers, grasses and weeds to fertilize other plants of the same species. Many people have a negative immune reaction when they breathe it.
Basically, what happens is that the immune system, which defends us against viruses and bacteria, identifies a harmless pollen in these people as a dangerous intruder and begins to produce chemicals to combat this invader.
This is called an allergic reaction, and the specific type of pollen that causes it is called an allergen.
Some people suffer from pollen allergies all year round, while others only experience them at certain times. For example, people who are sensitive to birch pollen usually experience increased symptoms in the spring, when birch trees are in bloom.
Similarly, people allergic to ragweed are most affected in late spring and early fall.
Once it has developed, pollen allergy is very unlikely to go away. However, its symptoms can be treated with allergy medications and vaccines.
Lifestyle changes can also be helpful in relieving these symptoms.
Symptoms only appear when the pollens to which the person is allergic are in the air.
- Mucus production and nasal discharge;
- Itching in the nose, eyes, ears and mouth;
- Stuffy nose (nasal congestion);
- Red, watery eyes;
- Swelling around the eyes (the skin around the eyes takes on a bluish tint);
- Sinus pressure, which can cause facial pain;
- Scratched throat;
- Decreased sense of taste or smell;
- Increased asthmatic reactions;
- Dry cough;
- Difficulty breathing.
Eczema and hives may also occur.
In the case of eczema, it causes itching and small red patches, fluid-filled blisters and, eventually, scaling.
In hives, raised red lesions appear on the skin, accompanied by itching.
How is the diagnosis made?
The diagnosis is made by a physician based on the symptoms presented. However, a referral may be made to an immunoallergist, who will perform a series of allergy tests to confirm the diagnosis.
The immunoallergist will ask questions about the person’s medical history and symptoms, including their onset and duration. It is therefore important to tell the specialist if the symptoms are still present or if they get better (or worse) at certain times of the year.
The immunoallergist will then perform a skin prick test to determine the specific allergen causing the presenting symptoms.
During this procedure, the immunoallergist will prick different areas of the skin and insert a small amount of different types of allergens.
If the person is allergic to any of these substances, he or she will develop redness, swelling and itching at the site within 15 to 20 minutes. There may also be a rounded, raised area of skin that looks like hives.
Blood tests may also be needed when the person has a skin condition or is taking medications that interfere with skin tests. It is also an alternative for children who cannot tolerate these tests.
Allergens are added to the blood sample collected in the laboratory. The amount of antibodies that the blood produces to attack the allergens is then measured.
Anti-allergy medications to control the symptoms of pollen allergy and vaccination (injectable or sublingual) are the main forms of treatment.
In terms of medications, it generally includes:
- Nasal sprays with corticosteroids;
- Nasal decongestants;
- Eye drops;
- Immunotherapy with allergens (vaccines).
Pollen is one of the most difficult allergies to avoid. However, it is possible to minimize exposure to this allergen. Here are some steps you can take in your daily life:
- Avoid going outside on windy days during high pollen times of the year;
- Wear a mask;
- Avoid all gardening work;
- Keep windows closed during pollen season and, if possible, use central air conditioning with a special certified asthma and allergy filter. This applies to your home and car, for example;
- Start taking allergy medications before the pollen season begins. Most of these medications work best if taken this way;
- Take a bath and wash your hair every day before you go to bed. This will remove the pollen from your hair and skin, and keep it off your bedding;
- Wash your bedding in hot, soapy water once a week;
- Wear sunglasses and a hat. This will protect your eyes and hair from pollen;
- Limit contact with pets that spend a lot of time outdoors;
- Change and wash clothes worn during outdoor activities;
- Dry your clothes in a dryer, not on the outside line.