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3 Questions About Pollen Allergies

An interview with allergy expert Andy W. Nish, MD.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Do you suffer from frequent sneezing, congestion, watery eyes, and an itchy, runny nose? If so, you may have seasonal allergic rhinitis, often called hay fever. It strikes when pollen starts to fly.

About 18 million U.S. adults and more than 7 million children suffer from hay fever, according to the CDC. Fortunately, there are steps people with allergies can take to avoid pollen and the misery that accompanies it, says Andy W. Nish, MD, of the Allergy & Asthma Care Center in Gainesville, Ga.

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Which pollens seem to cause the most allergies and why?

It's not the type of pollen per se -- trees, grass, and weeds can all cause a pollen allergy. Rather, it depends in part on where someone lives and how long the growing season is there.

A longer growing season typically produces more symptoms. In places like California and Georgia, where I live, there are fairly long growing seasons for grass pollen. This may lead to fairly high levels of pollen in the air, which then produce symptoms.

We know also that trees, which classically pollinate in the spring, and weeds, which classically pollinate in the fall, can also cause significant problems.

Does a pollen mask help?

If someone is allergic to grass and is going to be out mowing the lawn or cutting the fields, certainly wearing a mask is a reasonable thing to do.

In addition, it’s best to keep windows closed at home and in the car during pollen seasons. If someone has a big exposure to pollen, he or she may want to remove clothes when they come in and take a bath or a shower.

We think that grass pollen levels tend to be highest in the late afternoon and early evening. So it may be best for allergic individuals to avoid outdoor activities during those times.

Is there anywhere you can live to escape pollen?

Not really. There is somewhat of a myth that moving to a different part of the country can be helpful, but in general, it’s not.

There certainly are places that have shorter growing seasons than others. And yet many times, people find that if they move to a different part of the country to escape a certain type of pollen, they may become more sensitized to the pollen in the location to which they moved.

Moving to escape your allergies is something that I don’t ever recommend. It is a drastic, life-changing measure and we have treatments that are effective so that you don’t have to think about that drastic step.

Reviewed on March 09, 2010

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