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Allergy Today Advice Article: How to manage your spring allergy

Spring is the time plants come out of their winter hibernation and start pollinating in order to reproduce. This is important for their survival, as well as ours.alex-basov-IiktmNy6az0-unsplash-726

Pollination
There are two main types of pollination. With self-pollination, pollen grains from one flower on a plant fall onto another on the same plant. Cross-pollination requires a way to transfer pollen grains from the flower of one plant to another of the same species. Nature has arranged for wind, insects, birds, and sometimes animals and water, to be the ‘pollinators’.

Plants relying on insects or birds for cross-pollination tend to have brightly-coloured or scented flowers. These attract bees, beetles, moths, butterflies or birds, to travel from flower to flower to get food. In the process they transfer pollen to each flower they visit. Most flowering plants and staple crop plants rely on insects or birds for successful pollination.

The other main way plants are cross-pollinated is by wind. Pollen is picked up by the wind from one plant and blows onto another. So that wind can transport pollen, plants often have pollen grains that are small and light weight. This is more common in plants that have large populations across wide areas, because it increases the chance of pollen landing on a flower on a plant of the same species. Plants that are pollinated by wind do not need to attract insects or birds so are usually dull coloured, unscented, and with small or no petals since no insect needs to land on them.

How pollen causes hay-fever
People with hay-fever (aka allergic rhinitis) that erupts in spring and may carry through summer are most likely allergic to a wind-assisted pollen, with grass pollen being the most common allergen. These are the pollen grains that are light enough to float in the air, and small and smooth enough to be breathed in through nasal passages.

For most people with a pollen allergy, preventative medication, such as nasal cortico-steroid sprays and oral histamines, can reduce and control symptoms. It is recommended seeing your doctor for the right treatment for you. Make sure you are shown how to use the nasal sprays particularly, and if possible, start these a few weeks before the start of spring to give them time to take effect. For long-term treatment, it is recommended seeing a specialist for advice on whether allergen immunotherapy is suitable for you.

In addition to medication, you can also try to reduce your exposure to pollen. First, it is important to know the highest levels are generally in the early morning, when plants release their pollen grains, and on dry, windy days when a lot of pollen will be blowing in the air. Even if you are living in an urban area, don’t discount grass pollen as the culprit – it has been known to blow over 1,000 kilometres!

Thunderstorms in spring and summer can also be a high-risk time for people with grass pollen allergy. Although rare, a combination of high grass pollen levels and a particular type of thunderstorm can result in tiny pollen particles which, when breathed in, get deep into the airways and can trigger severe asthma symptoms.

Tips for reducing pollen exposure in spring and summer:

  • At home, keep windows and doors closed overnight and particularly during thunderstorms and windy days. If possible, use a ventilation or air conditioning system with a good filter to keep cool.
  • Stay indoors on windy days or during and after thunderstorms. If you need to go out, wear a mask and take a non-drowsy antihistamine.
  • In your car, keep windows closed and use the air recycle setting.
  • Plan outdoor activities when pollen counts are lowest, such as in the late afternoon or during cool, wet weather. When outdoors, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. If you are concerned about pollen that may have settled on your hair or clothing, shower and change when you get home.
  • Avoid hanging washing on the line outdoors during high pollen days. If possible, use an indoor drying rack or the clothes dryer.
  • In your garden, limit grassy areas, or get someone else to do the lawns – and stay indoors with doors and windows closed while they do the mowing. Use plants that self-pollinate or are insect pollinated.

For more information, see the Allergy New Zealand Pollen Calendar here

ASCIA resources: https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/allergic-rhinitis-hay-fever-and-sinusitis/pollen-allergy

 

Penny Jorgensen, Allergy Advisor, Allergy New Zealand.
November 2019