If plants are part of nature, then why are pollen allergies so common?

If plants are part of nature, then why are we allergic to them?

While oaks produce less potent pollen than other trees, the sheer quantity of pollen is what makes our noses run! What other plants might effect our allergies?
While oaks produce less potent pollen than other trees, the sheer quantity of pollen is what makes our noses run! What other plants might effect our allergies?

It’s that time of year again when our noses say – Nope!

Pollen is in the air and our noses are not fans. If plants are so natural and we’ve been exposed to them regularly, then why do we blow our nose and blink our itchy eyes so often?

Over 20% of Americans suffer from seasonal allergies. When pollen enters our bodies, our immune system may freak out. The immune system will produce antibodies to pick up the allergen molecules and take them to white blood cells. This process triggers the histamine chemical which causes sneezing and itchy or watery eyes. The body is trying to flush the allergen out!

I remember in elementary school hearing my friends complain about allergies. I was thankful that it wasn’t me! Now, years and years later, I found myself sniffling and blowing my nose as soon as the plants started blooming! What happened?

Allergies can be developed at any point in your life. Research has shown that this can happen when you’re exposed to the allergen at the same time that your body is fighting off another illness, like a cold. The immune system is working so hard to get rid of the virus that it may mistake the pollen grains as foreign, so it must be the virus, or just get overzealous and attack things that it doesn’t need to attack. Unfortunately, once the immune system thinks something is harmful, it will always think it’s harmful and the allergy becomes permanent.

So what plants should we avoid, and are there any that don’t make us sneeze in the spring and summer?

The OPALS Allergy Index Scale ranks plants on a scale of 1 (best) to 10 (worst). Some commonly ranked “10” plants are Ragweed (peak in summer), Ryegrass (peak in late spring, early summer), Maples (peak in early spring), Elms (peak in spring) and Oaks (peak in spring).

Fortunately, for those who love gardening and being outside, you can plant many things that won’t get your nose running. In fact, many flowery plants, such as Cherry trees, don’t cause allergies. Some other plants for your “allergy-free” garden may include Bougainvillea, Violet, Impatiens, Foxglove, Fan palms, Ferns, Apricots, Snap dragons, Zebra plant, orchids, and for those who love the most recent indoor planting trend -succulents!

There are other remedies that may allow you to be out in a field of Ragweed or budding Maple trees and not worry. Taking medicines like antihistamines and decongestants will reduce sneezing and runny noses. Neti pots (a water and baking soda mix that can be flushed through the nostrils) open up the sinus passages. When using one, just be careful to use sterile water and to keep the pot clean and dry between uses! Butterbur is an herb that, for some people, has worked just as effectively as antihistamine drugs! Also, eat more onions and apples and drink more black tea! Quercetin is found naturally in those foods and block the release of histamines in the body. A simpler remedy is to just shower as soon as you come inside and to change clothes to reduce the pollen load on you. If you still need further help, click here for a Pollen Forecast that can help you plan how many tissues you need to carry around with you.

For more information, check out any of these great links!

Ragweed Vs. Goldenrod

Medical Causes and Cures for allergies

Science behind Pollen Grains – Top 10 Best and Worst Plants for Allergies

Immune Systems and Allergies

Causes of Pollen Allergies



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