The most effective treatment for hay fever is avoiding the offending allergen. That's easier said than done, however, when the allergen is outdoor pollen. Indeed, many people believe that the only sure way to avoid a particular plant pollen is to move to a different part of the country with a different set of plants. But in fact, most people who relocate to get away from one pollen type find that they eventually develop allergies to different plant pollens in the new area. Moreover, with a little effort and foresight, you usually can get relief by lessening your exposure to pollen both inside and outside your home.
Finally, if it is not practical to reduce your exposure to pollens, medications can help. More information on medications can be found in our section on treating hay fever.
Pollen and pollen counts
Pollen is the male component of the plant reproductive system. The type of pollen that most commonly causes allergic reactions comes from plants that produce small, light, dry pollen granules in large quantities that can be carried through the air for miles. Common allergenic culprits include:
- Hardwood deciduous trees such as oak, ash, elm, birch, maple, alder and hazel, as well as hickory, pecan, and mountain cedar. Juniper, cypress, and sequoia trees also are likely to cause allergies.
- Grasses such as timothy grass, Kentucky bluegrass, Johnson grass, Bermuda grass, redtop grass, orchard grass, sweet vernal grass, perennial rye, salt grass, velvet grass, and fescue
- Weeds such as ragweed, sagebrush, redroot (pigweed), lamb's quarters, goosefoot, tumbleweed (Russian thistle), and English plantain. Ragweed is the dominant weed pollen in the eastern and midwestern.
In the spring, hay fever is caused by pollen from trees. Over the summer, pollen from grasses and weeds is the culprit. In the fall, ragweed is usually the cause of hay fever.
The beginning and end of pollen seasons for particular plants are very consistent in each geographical region. However, the weather can determine how heavy the pollen count will be seasonally and daily. The pollen count is a measure of the amount of pollen in the air. Usually, pollen counts are at their highest on warm, dry, and breezy mornings and their lowest on rainy, cool days. Generally, the severity of your allergic reaction will mirror the rise and fall of the pollen count.
Pollen counts commonly are included in local weather reports. The counts usually are reported for mold spores and three types of pollen: trees, grasses, and weeds. The count is reported as grains of pollen per square meter of air collected over 24 hours. This number represents the concentration of all the pollen in the air in a certain area at a specific time.
In general, a "low" pollen count means that only people extremely sensitive to pollen will experience symptoms. A "medium" count means many people who are sensitive to pollen will experience symptoms, and a "high" count means most people with any sensitivity to pollen will experience symptoms.
Although the pollen count is approximate and fluctuates, it is useful as a general guide when you are trying to determine whether or not you should stay indoors to avoid exposure to pollen.
The following recommendations can help you avoid symptoms whether you're at home, outdoors, or out on the town.
- Keep the windows closed and use air conditioning if you are allergic to pollen; don't turn on fans as they can stir up dust.
- Filter the air; cover air conditioning vents with cheesecloth to filter pollen, and use a high-efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA) if you have a forced-air furnace. Clean air filters frequently and air ducts at least once a year.
- Avoid unnecessary exposure to other irritants such as smoke, air pollution, bug spray, and vapors from fresh paint and tar.
- Minimize walks in wooded areas, fields, or gardens.
- Check the forecast; stay indoors as much as possible on hot, dry, windy days when pollen counts are generally the highest.
- If possible, stay indoors between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when outdoor pollen counts are high.
- Wear a mask (such as an inexpensive painter's mask) when mowing the lawn if you are allergic to grass pollen or mold, or avoid mowing and being around freshly cut grass if possible.
- Wear a mask when gardening, as flowers and some weeds release pollen and can cause allergy symptoms.
- After being outdoors, take a shower and wash your hair to remove pollen that may have collected, and change your clothes.
- Don't hang clothes or linens out to dry because pollen and molds may collect on them.
- Keep the windows closed and set the air conditioner on recirculate if you are allergic to pollen.
Last reviewed on 08/19/2008
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