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Understanding Pollen Allergy: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Dr. BhavikaNov 24, 2022

The spring season brings with it blooming flowers and fresh green leaves; if you have a Pollen Allergy, it would also bring itching, sneezing, and a stuffy nose. These can cause tiredness and affect your concentration and productivity. In India, 20 to 30% of the population suffers from Pollen Allergy, more commonly in Northern regions. With increased pollution and rising temperatures over the last few years, the incidence of Pollen Allergy has shot up. Read ahead for an overview of Pollen Allergy.

Pollen Allergy

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What is pollen?

While driving on highways or open roads, you might often notice all kinds of grass and plants growing along the sides. Similarly, around footpaths in cities and even along building walls you might see weeds creeping up. How do these grow without planting any seeds? The answer is pollen.

Pollen is produced by most plants as a means of reproduction. It is a fine, yellowish powder-like substance produced by plants that spreads through the air. It is carried by the wind, birds, insects, butterflies, bats, and several animals. Wherever the pollen is deposited, new plants can grow.

While pollen is essential to propagate plant life, it can be a nuisance to people who are sensitive to it. The symptoms of Pollen Allergy can be extremely distressing and can hamper daily life.

Causes of Pollen Allergy

The months from March to June are when Pollen Allergy is most prevalent. The dry weather and flowering plants put together can be the bane of one’s existence.

Some plants that produce highly allergenic pollen include:

  • Trees like oak, birch, cedar

  • Weeds like ragweed, mugwort, Amaranthus

  • Common grass like rye, jowar, bajra, bermuda grass, etc.

When pollen comes in contact with the lining of your nose, throat, or eyes (called mucosa), it triggers the immune system to produce certain chemical substances. These cause localised as well as widespread reactions as your body tries to expel the allergen from your body.

Consequently, the local region becomes inflamed and congested, producing the unpleasant symptoms of allergy. If your body is extremely sensitive, even a small quantity of allergen can trigger a reaction.

Symptoms of Pollen Allergy

Even though the symptoms of Pollen Allergy can seem non-specific, the key is that they occur periodically. This means you probably get the same symptoms around the same time each year.

The common symptoms of Pollen Allergy include the following.

  • Nasal congestion and blockage, resulting in difficulty in breathing

  • Excess nasal secretions/ runny nose 

  • Itching of the nose, eyes, and throat

  • Sneezing

  • Excess watering of eyes

  • Coughing

  • Breathing difficulty, wheezing

  • Generalised tiredness

  • Headache

  • Heaviness of the head

In a quarter of patients, a Pollen Allergy can progress to asthma. In these cases, repeated exposure to pollen can trigger asthma attacks.

If you have these symptoms and your doctor suspects that you have a Pollen Allergy, they may recommend some tests. A skin test or a patch test is done using specific allergens. When your skin comes in contact with the pollen extract it may show a local reaction, indicating an allergy.

If you have severe symptoms, your doctor may also suggest blood tests. These are done mainly to check for markers of inflammation such as absolute eosinophil count or IgE levels.

Treatment of Pollen Allergy

If you suffer from constant allergies, you must have already tried a lot of things. Effective treatment is a combination of protective measures and medical management.

If you visit a doctor, they may recommend the following:

1. Nasal irrigation

One of the most effective ways to reduce contact with allergens is to wash them out directly. This process is called nasal irrigation. Clearance of the nasal canal can be done using warm water, saline nasal sprays, or nebulisers.

This process should be done very gently to prevent injury. The water and any other equipment used should be clean and sterile to prevent infections. Nowadays, special devices are available that make nasal irrigation easy and safe.

2. Use of anti-allergy medications 

These medications form the mainstay of treatment for Pollen Allergy. The most common over-the-counter tablets available to combat allergic symptoms include a group of drugs called antihistamines.

Apart from these, nasal decongestant sprays are also available, most of which contain steroids. A lot of people have the habit of constantly using inhalers and sprays. However, their prolonged use can actually worsen symptoms of Pollen Allergy. It can cause permanent damage to the nasal mucosa.

3. Immunotherapy

As the name suggests, this is a way to use your immune system in the treatment of Pollen Allergy.

In this, small doses of the allergen are introduced to the body in a series of doses. This helps the body get accustomed to the allergen and produces long-term tolerance called desensitisation. Vaccines are also available that can be taken annually to prevent symptoms.

Routinely, antibiotics are not indicated in the treatment of Pollen Allergy. In India, the unregulated use of antibiotics is rampant. Experts in the field have stated numerous times that even though one in three Indians have some form of allergy, most of them are treated incorrectly.

Prevention is better than cure

Preventing exposure to pollen is another important measure in combating Pollen Allergy. Along with medications, following these measures will reduce your exposure to pollen. Here are a few simple steps you can take, especially when you know the season where you get a Pollen Allergy is coming close.

  • Use personal protective equipment like masks and sunglasses while going out.

  • Keep doors and windows closed to limit pollen exposure inside the home.

  • Take anti-allergy shots and medications regularly. Your doctor can keep you updated with the best options available for your condition.

  • Use filters and air purifiers indoors. Portable HEPA filters and humidifiers can help ease your breathing. 

  • Use covers and cases to prevent the accumulation of allergens over pillows, cushions, mattresses, etc. 

  • If you have been outdoors (especially on a windy day) make sure to shower and change your clothes immediately after you get home. 

  • Do not hang washed clothes outdoors as it can be risky. Pollen can attach itself to your clothes as well.

Following these measures is cumbersome and can get a little boring. However, sometimes small changes in your lifestyle can help with a massive change in your symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common questions and answers related to Pollen Allergy.

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What are the common symptoms of Pollen Allergy?

Pollen Allergy is extremely common in India. It typically presents as recurrent symptoms of congestion, watering of the eyes, itching of skin and mucosa, or headache. When these symptoms are prolonged, they affect the quality of life and ability to work to a great extent. These symptoms can be controlled to reduce your discomfort. Always consult your doctor to know the best way to treat your symptoms.

How can I go about my normal life if I am vulnerable to Pollen Allergy?

With the right combination of prescription medications and protective measures, you too can enjoy bright, sunny days outdoors without worrying about the consequences.

Which doctor should I visit for Pollen Allergy treatment?

It’s best to consult an allergy specialist to ensure you get the correct treatment.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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