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Pollen allergy is a type of seasonal allergic rhinitis caused by pollen grains. Pollens, on entering human noses and throats, trigger this type of seasonal allergic rhinitis.

It is also more commonly known as hay fever or rose fever (depending on the season in which the symptoms occur). Not all pollens are allergenic; some people may be allergic to specific pollen whereas some people may be allergic to different pollen. Year round or perennial allergic rhinitis is usually due to indoor allergens, such as dust mites or molds.

Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is the most common of the allergic diseases and refers to seasonal nasal symptoms that are due to pollens. Pollen allergy can also result in conjunctivitis and asthma. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, it is reported that pollen allergy affects nearly about 1 out of 10 Americans.

Signs and symptoms of pollen allergy

Most pollens are windborne; they can often blow indoors through open windows and doors, and trigger allergic rhinitis within your home, not just outdoors. Wind-pollinated trees, grasses, and weeds produce pollen during various times of the year.

Symptoms of pollen allergies include sneezing, stuffy nose, itchy and watering eyes, headaches, sore throat and trouble breathing. They also include allergic shiners (dark circles under the eyes caused by restricted blood flow near the sinuses), allergic salute (persistent upward rubbing of the nose that causes a crease mark on the nose) and conjunctivitis.

Treatment of pollen allergy

Avoidance

Complete avoidance of allergenic pollens by relocation to a place where the offending plant does not grow and its pollen is not present in the air, is not a reliable solution. This extreme solution may offer only temporary relief because a person who is sensitive to one specific weed, tree, or grass pollen may often develop allergies to others after repeated exposure. So, relocation as an approach to avoid pollen allergy is strongly discouraged. There are other ways to avoid the offending pollen:
  • Limit outdoor activity to lower pollen counts when possible. Avoid intense outdoor activities during the early morning and late afternoon hours when pollen counts are highest.
  • Wash hands after petting animals that have been outside. Pollen settles on their coat. 
  • Shower and shampoo hair after being outside to rid hair and skin of pollen. 
  • Change into fresh clothing, and wash clothing that has been outside. 
  • Try to separate indoor shoes from outdoor shoes, to limit tracking the pollen throughout the house. 
  • Use air conditioners, not fans, in warm weather to avoid bringing in the "outside" air.
  • Use a clothes dryer instead of hanging the wash outside, where it acts as a filter trap for pollen.
  • Avoid unnecessary exposure to irritants such as dust, insect sprays, tobacco smoke, air pollution, and fresh tar or paint. Any of these can aggravate the symptoms of pollen allergy.

Medication

For people with seasonal allergies who can’t avoid pollen, the symptoms can often be controlled with medication available by prescription or over the counter:

Antihistamines – Antihistamines block the action of histamine, the substance released when mast cells recognize the presence of allergens. Antihistamines have proven useful in relieving sneezing and itching in the nose, throat, and eyes and in reducing nasal swelling and drainage. Unfortunately, many people who take antihistamines experience some distressing side effects that include drowsiness and loss of alertness and coordination.

Nasal decongestants – Over-the-counter products containing decongestants reduce nasal congestion by constricting blood vessels. Nasal sprays work faster than oral decongestants, but rebound is also common. After a few days of taking nasal decongestants, there's a "rebound effect" in which the congestion that had cleared comes back. These drugs can also raise blood pressure, increase the heart rate, and cause nervousness in some people, so persons with allergies should check with their doctors before using decongestants.

Corticosteroids – Steroid medications in oral or inhaled nasal forms are used to decrease inflammation and inhibit mucus production. Nasal steroids have fewer side effects (which include nasal burning and dryness and a sore throat) than oral forms. Long-term oral use must be carefully monitored because of potential systemic side effects. Low-dose topical steroid medications are used for rashes. 

Cromolyn sodium – It is another effective agent that is available by prescription as a nasal solution. It is believed to control allergic symptoms by preventing histamine release. It has been proven safe and effective and, in contrast to some other allergy medications, appears to cause no drowsiness.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy (commonly called allergy shots) is recommended if environmental control methods and medication prove to be inadequate to control a person's symptoms. It may offer such a person with relief and even help to prevent development of airway inflammation and the resulting chronic airway sensitivity. The aim of this treatment is to increase the patient's tolerance to the particular pollen to which he or she is allergic.

Allergen immunology works like a vaccination. Through exposure to small, injected amounts of a specific allergen in gradually increasing doses, the human body builds up immunity to the allergens that trigger an allergic reaction. So when you encounter these allergens in the future, you will have a reduced or very minor allergic response and fewer symptoms.

The size of the largest dose of an allergen depends on the patient's tolerance and the effect of treatment on the patient's allergy symptoms. Since it takes time to build up tolerance, prolonged treatment may be needed before the patient's symptoms are relieved.

Immunotherapy may be associated with potential side effects. It can be expensive, and may require months before any improvement is apparent. These injections can cause allergic reactions which can be quite mild such as redness and swelling at the site of the injection or might even produce potentially serious systemic reactions such as hives, generalized swelling, or shock.

At-Home Treatments

  1. Nasal irrigation is a safe and effective practice that can be performed daily. It uses salt water to flush bacteria and dried mucus out of the nose and sinuses. 
  2. Steam and sauna baths help ease allergy symptoms, as the steam and heat help the body to release toxins and allergens through sweat. 
  3. Gargle with warm saline water at night – good oral hygiene ensures that all potential allergens in the mouth are washed out.
  4. Saline sprays look very much like nasal decongestant sprays, but instead of medication they contain a specially mixed saline solution. The solution moisturizes dry and irritated mucous membranes. Saline sprays do not flush out the nasal and sinus passages as much as a full irrigation.
  5. Steam inhalation is often used to break up mucus and reduce congestion. Steam can soothe and moisturize irritated nasal and sinus membranes, and unlike nasal irrigation it also helps soothe sore throats and chest congestion.
  6. Aromatherapy is often used with steam inhalation to provide extra relief. Aromatherapy uses essential oils to produce a soothing vapor that helps to alleviate allergy symptoms.

Why is it so important to treat pollen allergy?

Allergy sufferers realize that allergic symptoms are annoying and, in severe cases, debilitating. A pollen allergy however does not progress to serious pulmonary or other diseases but occasionally complications may occur if it is left untreated. These include swelling of the nasal passages and Eustachian tubes leading to the ears, which may prevent proper drainage and airflow and lead to secondary infection of the sinuses or to middle ear problems.
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