Pollen is one of the most common triggers of seasonal allergies. Many people know pollen allergy as “allergic rhinitis.” Experts often refer to pollen allergy as “seasonal allergic rhinitis.”
Each spring, summer, and fall, plants secrete small grains of pollen to fertilize other plants of the same species. Most of the pollen that causes allergic reactions comes from trees, weeds and lawns. These plants make small, light and dry pollen grains that travel by the wind.
Pollen Allergy Symptoms
In people with pollen allergy, allergy symptoms occur during periods when those pollens are in the air, whichever type of pollen they are allergic to. Symptoms include:
- Runny nose and secrete mucus
- Itchy nose, eyes, ears, and mouth
- Nasal congestion
- Red and watery eyes
- Swelling around the eyes
Causes of Pollen Allergy
For all allergies, the immune system reacts to specific allergy trigger molecules (allergens). The immune system produces antibodies that detect the allergen and cause inflammatory reactions and the release of a chemical called histamine. Histamine causes hay fever symptoms and sneezing, such as itchy and watery nose and eyes.
A few types of plants known to cause pollen allergy are as follows:
- Trees: Birch, Alder, Cedar, Hazelnut, Willow, Plane, Olive and Hornbeam
- Lawns: Black Meadow and Timothy
- Weeds: Ragweed, Nettle, Mugwort, Goose Feet and Sorrel
Pollen Allergy Diagnosis
Doctors use two tests to diagnose a pollen allergy.
Skin Prick Test
In the skin prick test, also known as the scratch test, a nurse or doctor drops a small drop of possible allergens onto the skin. The nurse then pierces or scratches the skin gently with a needle through the drops. If allergic to the substance, redness, swelling and itching develop in the test area within 20 minutes. A positive SPT for a particular pollen allergen does not mean a person has an allergy.
Specific IgE Blood Test
Blood tests are useful if people have skin symptoms or have used drugs that interfere with skin tests. It can also be used in children who do not tolerate skin testing. Your doctor will take a blood sample and it will be sent to a lab. The lab adds the allergen to the blood sample. It then measures the amount of antibodies your blood produces to attack allergens. This test is called the Specific IgE (sIgE) Blood Test. As with skin tests, a positive blood test for an allergen does not necessarily mean that an allergen is causing its symptoms.
Pollen Allergy Treatment
Some over-the-counter and prescription medications can help reduce pollen allergy symptoms.
Antihistamines come in pill, liquid, or nasal spray form. They can relieve itching and sneezing in the nose and eyes. It also reduces runny nose and lesser nasal congestion.
Decongestants are available as pills, liquids, nasal sprays or drops. They help shrink the lining of the nasal passages and relieve nasal congestion. Decongestant nasal drops and sprays should only be used in the short term.
Nasal corticosteroids are a type of nasal spray. It reduces nasal inflammation and prevents allergic reactions. It is the most effective type of medicine for allergic rhinitis because they can reduce all symptoms, including nasal congestion. Nasal corticosteroids have few side effects.
Leukotriene receptor antagonists block the action of important chemical messengers (other than histamine) involved in allergic reactions.
It is a nasal spray that blocks the release of chemicals that cause allergy symptoms, including cromolyn sodium, histamine, and leukotrienes. This drug has few side effects, but you should take it four times a day.
Many people with pollen allergies do not fully benefit from medications. This also means that the person may be a candidate for immunotherapy treatment. Immunotherapy is a long-term treatment that helps prevent or reduce the severity of allergic reactions. It can alter the course of allergic disease by altering the body’s immune response to allergens.