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Pollen Allergy and the Body's Allergic Reaction

What is Pollen?
Pollen are male cells from flowering plants. The cells, taking the shape of a powdery substance, help plant fertilization.

The large, waxy pollen from plants with bright flowers, such as roses, don’t usually aggravate allergies. They are too heavy to be carried by the wind and thus have to rely on bees and other insects to carry pollen from plant to plant.

Those plants that have small, light, dry pollen include many trees, grasses, and low-growing weeds. Their pollen is perfect for dissemination by wind and is the pollen that usually triggers allergic reactions.

Pollen Counts
To find out the amount of airborne allergens present in the air, pollen counts are compiled. Several methods can be used to count the pollen in the air including certified aeroallergen counters at universities, medical centers and medical clinics.

According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, pollen counting stations usually start reporting on pollen levels in March and April because this is when pollen levels increase to measurable amounts. The date can vary from station to station each year based on local weather conditions. Those pollen counting stations that are located in warmer climates generally stay open year round.

Weather Affects Pollen Allergy
Rainy, cloudy, or windless days usually produce less pollen in the air because the pollen does not flow freely through the air. For hay fever sufferers this type of day would be best if needed to spend time outside. The worst days for hay fever sufferers are hot, dry, windy days. With the hot, dry wind there is greater pollen and mold distribution, increasing allergy symptoms.

The beginning and end times of various plant’s pollen seasons remain very similar from year to year in the same location but intensity of pollen in the air can differ based on the pervious year’s weather, current weather, and extreme environmental factors.

Not only does the weather and season affect pollen levels, the amount of pollen in the air can also vary depending on the time of day. Pollen is usually at its highest concentration between 5 and 10 a.m.

The Allergic Reaction Caused by Pollen Allergy
The immune system’s normal function is to defend against germs, bacteria, and viruses that could harm the body. When a person has an allergic reaction, the immune system is having the same defense response to a non-threatening substance. The immune system sees the allergen the same way it would see a germ and works to attack it.

The NIAID explains the immune system’s way of attacking an allergen:

“The immune system does this by generating large amounts of a type of antibody called immunoglobulin E, or IgE. Each IgE antibody is specific for one particular substance. In the case of pollen allergy, each antibody is specific for one type of pollen. For example, the immune system may produce one type of antibody to react against oak pollen and another against ragweed pollen.

The IgE molecules are special because IgE is the only type of antibody that attaches tightly to the body’s mast cells, which are tissue cells, and to basophils, which are blood cells. When the allergen next encounters its specific IgE, it attaches to the antibody like a key fitting into a lock. This action signals the cell to which the IgE is attached to release (and, in some cases, produce) powerful chemicals like histamine, which cause inflammation. These chemicals act on tissues in various parts of the body, such as the respiratory system, and cause the symptoms of allergy.”

If a person has an allergy to pollen, large amounts of IgE are produced in the body when that person comes into contact with pollen, usually by inhalation of pollen granules. A pollen allergy sufferer can usually find relief through antihistamines and prevention strategies such as staying indoors on high pollen count days.

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