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Guide | December 18, 2023

Understanding Pollen Allergies & Hay fever

With spring comes blooming flowers and the suns reprieve, but for many, it triggers the onset of seasonal hay fever – otherwise known as pollen allergies. If you’re wondering, ‘what are pollen allergies?’ or ‘how can I minimise pollen allergy symptoms?’ our experts explain all you need to know in this extensive guide to pollen and hay fever.

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What is a pollen allergy?

To understand what a pollen allergy is, it helps to learn about pollen itself. Pollen is a mass of microspores released by plants and trees, typically as a fine powder, and plays a vital role in the life cycle of plants. Each grain of pollen is a tiny body – generally about 15-100 microns – formed in the male structures of seed plants. When pollen grains are transported by wind, water or insects to the female part of a flower, fertilisation takes place.

Pollen is mostly released during the early spring and summer months by plants, trees and grasses as part of their reproductive cycle. However, depending on the climate and plant type, pollen can also linger in the air during the cooler months, which is why some people may experience pollen allergies all year round. It is the presence of pollen which causes seasonal rhinitis in humans, which is a common allergic reaction, widely known as ‘hay fever’.

What causes hay fever?

When the nose and/or the eyes encounter environmental allergens such as pollens, dust mites, moulds, animal fur and air pollutants, this often results in a person experiencing hay fever. Additionally, hundreds of plant species exist in the world that each respectively release pollen into the air and trigger pollen allergies.

Some common types of pollen allergies include:

Birch pollen allergy: As birch trees bloom, they release minute pollen grains that travel through the wind and the air we breathe. Birch pollen allergies are therefore one of the most common airborne allergens in spring.

Oak pollen allergy: Compared to other pollen types, oak pollen is considered mildly allergenic. However, it lingers in the air for longer, which can cause severe allergic reactions for some.

Grass pollen allergy: During the warmer months, grass can be a main trigger of pollen allergies. Although there are many grass varieties, only few can trigger pollen allergy symptoms.

Ragweed pollen allergy: Since one ragweed plant has the power to produce almost 1 billion grains of pollen, these are the weeds that are most likely to cause pollen allergies.

Hay fever & pollen allergy symptoms

The symptoms of hay fever can be mild or severe but they often include:

  • sneezing
  • a runny or stuffy nose
  • itchy or watery eyes
  • itchy throat or ears
  • sinus pressure or pain

In some cases, pollen allergies can lead to symptoms such as:

  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • irritability
  • difficulty sleeping or sleep disturbances
  • impaired concentration

Some other conditions that commonly occur alongside hay fever include asthma, chronic sinusitis, middle ear infections and trouble sleeping, or decreased quality of sleep.

How to manage indoor and outdoor pollen allergies

Pollen allergies can be disruptive to everyday living; however, implementing management strategies can help you to alleviate symptoms at home and outdoors. Discover several strategies that may help minimise hay fever symptoms below.

Daily strategies to minimise symptoms

While it’s difficult to completely avoid sources of pollen, there are steps you can take to decrease pollen exposure.

Plan ahead to avoid pollen: Where possible, avoid areas that are likely to trigger your pollen allergies.

You can do this by:

  • Monitoring pollen forecasts.
  • Closing windows and using air conditioning or an air purifier with cooling.
  • Changing clothes after spending time outdoors. This will remove pollen from your body and prevent it from entering the home.
  • Avoiding keeping flowers in your home.
  • Drying washing indoors. Pollen can cling to bedding and towels, so it’s best to dry your washing indoors when the pollen count is high, or when mowing the lawn.
  • Steering clear of allergy hotspots. Avoid walking or running in grassy spaces.

Consider medications: You don’t need to suffer with allergy symptoms. Various medications and treatments may help, such as:

  • Antihistamines: you can purchase over the counter or prescription medications that block the release of histamine, a chemical your immune system releases, and help to relieve symptoms.
  • Nasal sprays: these are corticosteroid sprays that help to reduce inflammation and congestion in the nasal passages.

Before trying a new medication, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional.

Lifestyle changes

It’s difficult to avoid pollen throughout the warmer months, however, there are steps you can take to help manage pollen allergies during the heightened pollen seasons, such as:

  • Regularly vacuuming floors and surfaces: preferably, doing so with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which helps to remove pollen allergens from the home.
  • Selecting allergen-proof bedding: this not only combats pollen allergens, but minimises the prevalence of bacteria and dust mites, too.
  • Removing pollen from pets: it’s a good idea to wipe down your pet’s paws and keep them out of bedrooms if you experience pollen allergies or a pet allergy

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Air purification

Clean air is vital for a healthy lifestyle, yet many of us regularly inhale dirty air. Dyson’s purifying technology senses air quality, so you can monitor and remove pollutants and pollen from your living space. Consider utilising an air purifier in the home, which are specially designed to tackle the invisible health risks like pollen and bacteria. A Dyson air purifier has different layers of filtration to create the cleanest air possible, giving you a cleaner, healthier home, all year round.

Interesting facts about pollen

The study of pollen and spores – better known as palynology – is a fascinating subject studied by Dyson air quality scientists. Despite being an inconvenience to humans and pets, pollen plays an integral role in the life cycle of plants. However, the topic is often riddled with misconceptions.

Discover 5 surprising facts about pollen below.

  • Pets can develop pollen allergies, too: when pets experience hay fever, it can present differently to humans. Generally, red eyes, ears and paws, excessive scratching and tiredness are signs of hay fever in pets
  • Air quality can affect hay fever symptoms: Urban areas typically have lower pollen counts, when compared to the countryside. However, pollen can intertwine with particulate matter found in air pollution, which can exacerbate an allergic reaction.
  • Pollen season can last the entire year: A common misconception is that hay fever is only in the spring air, however hay fever season can start in January and end as late as September.
  • In 2017-18, an estimated 19% of Australians reported hay fever symptoms, which is about 1 in 5 people.2
  • Pollen can help with criminal cases: In criminal investigations, pollen samples from hair or clothes can be matched with matter found at a crime scene.

To manage pollen allergies and help improve quality of life, it helps to understand the key facts, causes, symptoms and coping strategies. For personalised advice and guidance, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional.

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1University of Worcester (2023) What is pollen? Available at: https://www.worcester.ac.uk/about/academic-schools/school-of-science-and-the-environment/science-and-the-environment-research/national-pollen-and-aerobiology-research-unit/what-is-pollen.aspx Accessed May 2023.
2https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-respiratory-conditions/allergic-rhinitis-hay-fever/contents/allergic-rhinitis.