It is summer, everyone is outside laughing and playing, at the beach perhaps, but you dread going out. The very thought of the outdoors makes your eyes water and your nose tingle. Why is that? Well, maybe you are one of the millions of people who have to cope with a condition called hay fever.
Hay fever, scientifically know as Allergic Rhinitis, is an allergy triggered by dust or pollen. The allergy was so named because symptoms were most evident during the season of hay harvesting when the air would have a high concentration of dust and pollen in general. It is characterized by inflamed mucous membranes of the eyes and nose. As a result, the affected individual may have a runny nose and itchy, watery eyes. Hay fever also causes persons to sneeze continuously.
Hay fever develops as a direct result of an immune response. This response takes place when the body is overly sensitive and reactant to an environmental factor that has no effect on other persons in general. The body produces histamines. They trigger inflammation and other responses to rid the body of a foreign substance, in some cases, not so harmful. Histamine release results in capillaries becoming more permeable to white blood cells. The white blood cells then move into the capillaries and surround affected tissue. When the foreign substance binds to the cells that are attacking them, one of the several responses may result. In an effort to remove the foreign substance sneezing may occur, or a rash containing the foreign substance bound to the cells may develop. Discharge from the affected area; nose, eyes or mouth, can also result from the action of histamines. Persons who suffer from hay fever may also want to limit alcohol consumption during the time when their symptoms are worst as alcohol can stimulate histamine production.
An individual need not come in contact with hay to have this response. Fever too, is not necessarily a symptom of this response, although the name suggests otherwise. People who suffer from hay fever may have it, seasonally or perennially.
Persons who suffer from seasonal hay fever have symptoms that affect them in summer, spring and perhaps early fall. The symptoms are triggered by the dust, pollen from flowers, grass and other plants and possibly airborne mold spores. Perennial sufferers though are afflicted with symptoms all year round. Their symptoms may be triggered by dust, pet dander or hair, mold, smoke, strong fragrances, vehicle exhaust or cockroaches. It is possible for both seasonal and perennial sufferers to have food allergies as well that may or may not affect them throughout the year. Additionally, perennial sufferers may experience worsened symptoms in the pollen season.
Hay fever symptoms
Persons who suffer from hay fever may have one, a few or all of its symptoms depending on the severity of their condition. These symptoms often occur after the individual has inhaled an allergen and are similar to those of a common cold or even influenza. As was mentioned before, these symptoms may occur seasonally or right throughout the year. The symptoms include but are not limited to:
- Runny nose
- Itching or watery eyes, nose, mouth or skin
- Constant sneezing or coughing
- Nasal congestion
- Fatigue (resulting from disturbed sleep due to inability to breathe properly)
- Swelling (from rubbing or scratching the skin or the inflammation in general)
- Scratchy or a sore throat
- Difficulty breathing, swallowing or talking
- Inability to sleep (histamines produced in response to allergen may have that effect)
Persons with pollen allergies are sensitive to the fine powder produced in the stamen of flowering plants. The actual allergy is called hay fever. Due to the tiny size of the pollen grains they may be dispersed over great distances in the air. They are also sticky so they may cling to skin or clothes. In this manner, it is easy to come in contact with the eyes or get inhaled through your mouth or nose. Depending on your geographic location reactions may vary in severity. In hot, windy, dry conditions generally, there will be more severe reactions due to the higher concentration of allergens in the air. In cooler, wetter conditions reactions tend to be less severe as the saturated air causes pollen grains to be washed to the ground and less likely to get into your nasal passage.
Pollen allergies may be specific to a type of plant or family of plants. Allergic reactions would be most evident when these plants are in full bloom. One of the ideal ways to deal with pollen allergies is to ascertain which pollens trigger a reaction. An allergist would be able to assist you with that. A few common plants whose pollen trigger allergic reactions include sorrel, nettle, willow, cedar and birch to name a few.
Allergic Reaction To Hay
Many persons suffer from allergic reactions to freshly mowed grass. However, hay, which is grass that has been cut and dried, is also a common trigger for allergies. Although some persons enjoy a good dive into a pile of hay, many persons itch at the mere thought. Aside from the regular drippy, itchy eyes, nose and mouth caused by inhaling the pollen or scent of hay, it can cause itching on contact with the skin. In severe cases, contact with the skin may cause a rash, small welts, and even cuts. Of course, hay itself can actually scratch the skin, causing cuts so it may not actually be an allergic reaction. It may just be that you need to take added precautions when handling hay.
Of course, dust mites present in the hay can also trigger allergic reactions. Trying to determine what triggers your allergies may be the best bet especially when dealing with hay. For the dust mites, you may want to wear a dust mask. For the hay itself, you may want to wear pants, long sleeves, and gloves, to limit the contact between the hay and your skin. Depending on the severity of the reaction you may want to limit your overall contact with hay or totally avoid contact with it, if at all possible.
As with most other things in life, sometimes it is impossible to avoid a trigger. In such cases, it may be wise to use anti-histamines and/or an anti-itch cream to calm the itching of the skin.
A pollen report details the average number of pollen grains present in a cubic meter (m3) of air. The higher the number, the more prevalent allergic reactions (hay fever) will be in the locality. Generally, the counts are carried out for specific plants. The pollen that is measured is generally that of the most common plant(s) in the area being measured.
One method of collecting samples is using a silicone grease-covered rod and rotating it in the air to gather pollen grains. The collection device must be located on a rooftop of at least a one story building, away from any significant pollen or mold sources to obtain accurate results.
During the period that the measurements are being gathered the rod is periodically rotated to gather the sample throughout twenty-four hours. After this time has elapsed the rod is removed and brought to a lab where the material stuck to the rod is analyzed with the aid of a microscope, and pollen grains are identified and counted. The type of pollen present is documented along with its concentration. A pollen count typically gives an idea of the concentration of pollen present in the air.
The figures depicting the level of pollen in the air vary among collecting stations, and are meaningless to the average person, as a result, pollen levels are generally classified as being high, moderate or low. A high pollen count depends on the type of allergen that is being tested for.
A pollen alert is issued when pollen levels are considered to be high. Pollen alerts may be issued for grass, weed or tree pollen, all three or any two. If the research is detailed, the pollen alert may be specific enough to identify which plant pollens will be the highest in the area. This is especially beneficial to people who know which type of pollen affects them and even better for those who know which plant exactly is a trigger.
Pollen Forecast Local
Local pollen forecasts allow you to take precautions if you suffer from pollen allergies. Some days will have a higher amount of pollen in the air than others and on those days you need to avoid the outdoors as much as possible. The weather also affects the pollen content of the air; as such, pollen forecasts take the weather forecast into consideration as well. Pollen forecasts generally provide pollen counts for five-day spans with details of the most common pollens in the area and what levels are expected for the days ahead.
Pollen levels are classified as high, low or moderate. Although there is a standard unit of measure the actual quantity means nothing to the average person. However, high pollen levels mean persons who have severe pollen allergies may need to stay inside as much as possible and protect their eyes, nose, and mouth if going out into the open. Days with moderate pollen levels mean persons with severe pollen allergies can take their chances, maybe suffering one or two flare-ups. Days with low pollen levels are days when persons with pollen allergies can go out and enjoy a relatively allergy free day. High pollen levels are not a guarantee that you will be affected any more than low pollen levels offer no guarantee that you will not have a reaction.
Pollen levels are affected by biological factors, the weather, and the geographical location. Although pollen levels, in general, may be low, the type of pollen that you are allergic to may be concentrated enough to trigger a response. The converse is also true, pollen levels may be high but your specific trigger may not. Additionally, pollen levels are usually an estimate or based on a sample, so you may be fortunate enough to be out of the high concentration zone or unfortunate enough to be in it.
The pollen index is a guide as to the measure of pollen in the air. It is used to indicate the pollen concentration in the air. This is communicated to the wider public using the terms high, moderate or low. The index would tell what range each term refers to. It can be further detailed into medium-low or medium-high. A guide as to pollen levels would be:
- Low – 0-2.4
- Low-Medium – 2.5-4.8
- Medium – 4.9-7.2
- High-Medium – 7.3-9.6
- High – 9.7-12.0
- This index represents a scale of 0 – 12.
The weather condition can influence the type of pollen in the air. Warm, windy days generally have a higher concentration of pollen in the air, as the wind carries dry pollen upward and disperses it into the air. When people with allergies breathe in, their allergic reactions may worsen. These conditions are also favorable for the dispersal of larger pollen grains into the air and as such allergic reactions can be more severe due to the presence of a number of triggers. On cold, damp or wet days, pollen counts are generally lower. However, molds, which release spores and are also allergens, may thrive in these conditions.
What Pollen Is In The Air
The three sets of pollen that are normally present in the air are tree pollen, grass pollen, and weed pollen. Tree pollen is a common cause of allergic reactions, especially in spring time. Most trees release their pollen in early spring or late winter. Pollen that people generally are sensitive to from trees is normally very powdery and fine. The wind can carry tree pollen for miles with a wider coverage, the taller the tree is.
Although tree pollen might almost be invisible, when inhaled, even in small amounts, it may cause allergic reactions in a person. Common trees that often trigger allergies include but are not limited to:
Grass pollen is noted for triggering various allergic reactions. Grass pollen is most highly concentrated in the air in the early summer months and in late spring. Grass pollen is generally the most highly concentrated pollen in the air throughout the summer season. Grasses whose pollen generally affects persons suffering from hay fever include but are not limited to:
- Sweet vernal
You may have allergic reactions to only one or more types of grass. Grasses start their growth early in spring. By late spring or early summer, they release their pollen into the air. Pollen released from grass is microscopic, that is, you will not be able to see it with your naked eye. Most types of grasses only release pollen when they grow tall enough. The pollen is released from the feather looking flower that grows at the top. Keeping grass low, whether on your lawn or the wild grass in your area, can help to reduce the air’s grass pollen content.
Weed pollen is most prevalent in the air during hot, dry, windy days. Weed pollen is most abundant in the period extending from late summer through to early fall. Mid-September is especially bad, as pollen levels generally tend to peak at this time. Ragweed is usually the worst culprit when it comes to triggering allergic responses. Not only are the grains small but a single plant can make and disperse thousands of pollen grains daily. Other highly allergenic species include but are not limited to:
- English Plantain
- Redroot Pigweed
- Lamb’s Quarters
- Sage Brush
- Russian Thistle
The weather condition can influence the type of pollen in the air. Warm, windy days generally have a higher concentration of pollen in the air, including larger pollen grains. On cold, damp or wet days, pollen counts are generally lower.
The kind of pollen in the air is also affected by the trees in the locality. The distance from certain plants will determine if their pollen is in the air around you or not. For example, a tree located in your yard can increase your exposure to pollen ten times as much as the pollen you will encounter from a plant growing down the road from your house.
Pollen counts enable you to have an idea of how you can be affected by pollen in your locality or whatever destination you are traveling to. The pollen count season is generally from March to August. Nevertheless, it may start in January and extend until November. The daily pollen count changes frequently and is impacted by a number of factors.
Treatments for allergies are normally very effective but mostly short-lived. The longer term solutions tend to be more drastic. Overall, people who suffer from hay fever are safest if they identify and avoid triggers. Knowing the pollen count and forecast for the area will help with keeping free from triggers. In the case that triggers remain unidentified, seek the help of an allergist. Your medical doctor may prescribe or recommend treatment or medication to reduce the effect of allergens and remove the response altogether.