If you are one of the more than 25 million Americans who regularly suffer from allergic rhinitis–commonly referred to hay fever–chances are you are familiar with the concept of pollen count. Pollen is one of the most common airborne allergens, and the levels of pollen in the environment will have a direct effect on the severity of your hay fever.
A variety of plants, weeds and trees produce and release pollen as part of their reproductive processes. Pollens are carried through the air and can permeate your respiratory system through the eyes, nose and mouth. When pollen season arrives, the level of pollens in the atmosphere mount, and hay fever worsens.
While most people associate hay fever allergies with springtime, pollen levels can rise and fall at various points throughout the year depending on climate, location and the type of plant life in the area. For example, tree pollens may be prevalent at any point from January through April and can include pollen from birch, ash, pine, cypress, hickory, poplar and more. Grass pollen, on the other hand, is most common in the summer months. In the autumn, weed pollen is the biggest culprit.
If you factor in the local weather, you’ll notice that pollen counts can vary not only from day to day but also from hour to hour. Mild winters lead to early tree pollination. While dry, windy weather will cause pollen levels to rise, rainy weather will help eliminate pollens from the environment (although excessive rain may also lead to an increase in future pollen creation).
While this may seem like a lot to digest, keeping track of pollen counts and forecasts can help you minimize the adverse affects of airborne allergens. This year, those of us in the Northeast have enjoyed an unseasonably mild late winter and early spring. That may be beneficial for outdoor activity, but it has created havoc for hay fever sufferers as pollen levels have soared way above normal. (Don’t complain: It’s been even worse for our friends down South.)
If your hay fever symptoms–sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, watery eyes, sinus pressure, itchiness–become severe, your quality of life suffers. If symptoms persist, they can lead to coughing, headaches, earaches and sore throats, too. If home treatment (over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants, herbal supplements, changes to diet) doesn’t solve the problem, a visit to the doctor may be necessary.
Prescription medications such as nasal corticosteroids (to limit inflammation) and leukotriene modifiers (to block histamine production) are available. Another option might be immunotherapy (allergy shots), which can help desensitize your immune system to the relevant airborne particles. If you notice a persistent fever, thick or bloody nasal secretions or an ongoing sore throat or earache, you should see your physician right away.