Pollen are tiny particles that are released by trees, flowers and grasses. They travel through the air, making spring, summer and sometimes even early fall miserable for people whose bodies react to this foreign invader by kicking the immune system into high gear. If that happens to you, you are probably all too familiar with the way it can make you feel: runny nose, sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes and throat. Sort of like a summer cold, except that once it comes, it never seems to go away.

Most Likely Culprits

While you may associate pollen with big, flowering plants, the truth is that the biggest allergy triggers for most people come in plainer packages. Certain types of trees, grasses and weeds cause the most discomfort. This is because their pollen is light and carried far and easily by the wind. In addition, plants with pollen that cause allergies seem to produce very large quantities at one time. Ragweed is a good example of this. Other strong allergy-producing pollens include tumbleweed, sagebrush, redroot pigweed, lamb's quarters and English plantain.[i] Grasses and trees, too, are important sources of allergenic pollens.

Timing Matters

If certain pollens make you feel sick, keep in mind that each plant has its own pollinating period which is usually consistent from year to year. This means that once you identify your triggers, you can find out when to expect them to peak and plan ahead to avoid exposure as much as you can.

Another important way to minimize your exposure is to check the daily pollen count. This will tell you what pollen allergens are prevalent in the air so you can plan your outdoor activities accordingly and protect yourself.

Other Steps to Protect Your Health

You can also take a variety of steps to keep your symptoms at bay on a daily basis. Here are some things you can do:

  • Stay inside in the mornings, when pollen is usually at its height. Late afternoon is typically better for people with pollen sensitivities to be outside.
  • Realize that windy days carry more pollen in the air, while pollen is lowest usually following a rainstorm.
  • Escape from high pollen counts by taking a strategically planned vacation. Consider heading out to sea on a cruise, or fleeing seasonal triggers by spending a week away.
  • Keep your windows closed and use air conditioning and air filters to reduce pollen levels at home.
  • Be aware that untreated symptoms can lead to complications such as a sinus or ear infection, which may require medical care and treatment.[ii]

Increased Sensitivity

Finally, keep in mind that while pollen allergies are at least seasonal, meaning that they will bloom and ebb along with the flowers, trees and grasses, the bad news is that some people with pollen allergies are also more susceptible to year-round triggers. This means that even when pollen counts are low, you may still need to avoid substances like dust, pet hair and mold, since these can also cause pollen allergy symptoms to flare.[iii]


[i]National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: National Institutes of Health at http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/asthma/pollen.cfm.

[ii] American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology website, Patients and Consumer Center: Tips to Remember, Outdoor Allergens at http://www.aaaai.org/patients/publicedmat/tips/outdoorallergens.stm.

[iii] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Service National Institutes of Health Pollen Allergy Guide at www.hoptechno.com/book46.htm.