It’s Allergy Season: The Pros and Cons of Pollen

May 1, 2021

The Pros:  Over a period of 140 million years, flowering plants and pollinators have co-evolved to create a process of pollination that ultimately sustains all life on the planet. Honey bees are the most important pollinators because they are the only insects that actively interact with the pollen, consistently forage in the same area around the hive, and visit single floral sources on each of their foraging trips.

Pollination is vital to ensuring a nutritious and diverse food supply for Earth’s inhabitants. Nearly all fruit and grain crops require pollination to produce a harvestable crop. Except for canola, corn and wind, which are self-pollinated—150 other foodstuffs in the United States require help from pollinators. These crops include apples, alfalfa, almonds, blueberries, cranberries, kiwis, melons, pears, plums, and squashes. Beyond providing human sustenance, honey bee pollination is critically important to maintaining a robust and balanced ecosystem. During allergy season it may be some small comfort to realize what else pollen can do besides cause allergies!

 

The Cons: Sneezing, itching eyes, runny nose, and coughing—common springtime miseries! Do you feel like your allergy symptoms are getting worse year after year? Well, it turns out turns out that they probably are becoming more intense. Unfortunately, research suggests that our spring allergy season has been getting longer and more severe over the past few years and the major reason is part of a much larger problem, climate change.

Climate change is shortening our winters and resulting in earlier and earlier springs and thus longer pollen seasons. On top of this seasonal shift, higher levels of carbon dioxide from cars, power plants and manufacturing facilities, increase pollen production in plants. Furthermore, common air pollutants like ozone and sulfur dioxide will irritate people’s airways, which make it easier for pollen grains to enter the lungs and other tissues.

 

What You Can Do

While it’s not possible to avoid all pollen, it is possible to minimize exposure to it if you are particularly susceptible to its effects, especially on high pollen counts days.    

Here are some actions you can take to help reduce your contact with pollen:

  • Keep windows and doors closed when pollen counts are high and don’t sleep at night with the windows open
  • Use your car’s air recirculation setting to prevent pollen from coming in the car while driving
  • Wash your bedding and vacuum carpets more frequently to remove excess pollen grains
  • Shower and/or change your clothes after spending a lot of time outside
  • Use a clothes dryer instead of air drying clothes outside
  • Remove your shoes when coming into your house to prevent tracking pollen inside
  • Avoid being outside during the midday, which is when pollen counts are the highest

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