Airborne pollen is a natural component of the atmosphere and plays an essential role in plant reproduction; however, airborne pollen can also trigger seasonal allergic rhinitis. If you are allergic to pollen, your immune system identifies pollen as an allergen and reacts by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies are responsible for the release of histamine and other chemicals causing symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and itchy eyes. Take this quiz to see how much you know about pollen.
False: Pollen is produced by all seed plants, which includes both flowering plants (angiosperms) and cone-bearing plants (gymnosperms). Pollen is a vital part of the reproductive cycle and is produced by the male parts of the flower or by male cones. In order for seeds to be produced, pollen must be transferred from the male part of the flower (or male cone) to the female part of the flower (or female cone).
False: Pollen is transferred by wind or by insects. Insect-pollinated plants (also called entomophilous) have flowers that are usually large and fragrant with brightly-colored petals, which attract insects. The pollen tends to be large and sticky. Wind-pollinated plants (also called anemophilous) have flowers that are very small and inconspicuous. They produced enormous quantities of lightweight pollen that is readily dispersed by the wind.
Yes: Generally the pollen from entomophilous plants is non-allergenic. However, there have been some cases where allergic reactions have occurred from handling or closely smelling insect-pollinated flowers. Even among anemophilous plants there are some that are highly allergenic like ragweed pollen, and others that are rarely allergenic such as pine pollen.
False: There are proteins in the pollen grain, which can trigger an allergic reaction. When we inhale pollen these proteins are released from the pollen grain into our nasal passages and react with the immune system to trigger symptoms in individuals allergic to that pollen type.
All of the above: Pollen release is seasonal; however, the season differs for various types of plants. In general most trees flower (and release pollen) in the spring, grasses begin flowering in spring and continue through summer. Weeds typically begin flowering in late summer and continue through fall. There are exceptions to this since some weeds pollinate in spring, and some trees release pollen in fall and even winter.
Mid-day: Although this may vary with local meteorology conditions, generally pollen levels are highest from late morning to mid-afternoon. Pollen levels are usually lowest during the early morning hours.
All of the above: Avoid exposure to the outside air as much as possible and take medication prescribed by your allergist.
Maybe. This varies depending on your location. In many areas, especially in temperate climates where there are lots of trees, total pollen counts are highest in spring time. During this time the atmosphere often contains many different types of tree pollen. In areas with few trees, highest pollen levels may occur in the fall when ragweed is pollinating.
Yes: Spring flowering trees are sensitive to winter temperatures. Trees need a certain period of warm temperatures before they flower and release pollen, and the amount of warm temperatures varies among different species of plants. When the winter is unusually cold or unusually long, the warm-up period is longer than normal. This means that the trees will be late in flowering and consequently releasing pollen. The opposite occurs when the winter is warmer than normal; pollen release is likely to be early.
True: NAB stations use air sampling instruments that collect pollen from the atmosphere. The air samples are then examined under a microscope and the individual pollen grains are identified and counted. These samples represent what was in the atmosphere during the previous 24 hours and are expressed as pollen levels of low, moderate, high, or very high on the NAB website - http://www.aaaai.org/global/nab-pollen-counts.aspx.
Learn more about allergic rhinitis symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and management.