Alternaria. Aspergillus. Cladosporium. Penicillium. Unless you have a special fondness for fungi, you’re probably not too familiar with these or any of the thousands of other common molds.
But if you’re among the estimated 5% of Americans who have mold allergies, you may be all too well acquainted with the itchy eyes, nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, skin irritation, and other symptoms mold allergies can cause. Severe mold allergies can even trigger potentially dangerous asthma attacks.
The biggest spring allergy trigger is pollen -- tiny grains released into the air by trees, grasses, and weeds for the purpose of fertilizing other plants. When pollen grains get into the nose of someone who’s allergic, they send the immune system into overdrive.
The immune system, mistakenly seeing the pollen as foreign invaders, releases antibodies -- substances that normally identify and attack bacteria, viruses, and other illness-causing organisms. The antibodies attack the allergens, which leads to the release of chemicals called histamines into the blood. Histamines trigger the runny nose, itchy eyes, and other symptoms of allergies.
Pollen can travel for miles, spreading a path of misery for allergy sufferers along the way. The higher the pollen count, the greater the misery. The pollen count measures the amount of allergens in the air in grains per cubic meter. You can find out the daily pollen count in your area by watching your local weather forecast or by visiting the NAB: Pollen & Mold Counts page on the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s web site.
Grasses and weeds
Allergy symptoms tend to be particularly high on breezy days when the wind picks up pollen and carries it through the air. Rainy days, on the other hand, cause a drop in the pollen counts, because the rain washes away the allergens.