Seasonal pollen allergies can have such a big impact on quality of life. I know that my hay fever symptoms make me completely miserable and even dread the start of spring. That’s the time of year when we start being bombarded with advertisements for antihistamine and nasal sprays. These can be a very important part of symptom management. But there are also some really practical steps you can take to minimise your exposure to pollen. With multiple allergic people in our family, here’s what we’ve learnt about how to deal with pollen allergy.
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What is pollen and how does it cause allergies?
Pollen is made up of tiny grains of male plant DNA. It is released by flowering plants to fertilise other plants of the same species. Pollen is released by trees, weeds, flowers and grasses. Some flowering plants rely on insects and birds for pollination, but others rely on the wind and might release much more pollen into the air. Right now, our conifers are raining huge amounts of yellow pollen around our garden (and on my car!).
Some people are sensitised to pollens from particular plants. If they breathe in pollen or it gets in their eyes, their immune system will mount an allergic response and they will experience hay fever (allergic rhinitis) symptoms.
In Australia, common allergy causing pollens are from rye grass, Timothy grass, Johnson grass, ragweed, birch trees, olive trees and a host of others. ASCIA has a fantastic guide to common allergy causing pollens on its website, including information on each plant and when it is in season.
Pollen allergy symptoms
People who are allergic to pollens experience commonly experience symptoms including:
- itchy nose;
- runny nose;
- itchy or watering eyes;
- a blocked nose, which can cause snoring at night time;
- sinus problems; and
Many people know the symptoms caused by pollen allergies as “hay fever”. However the medical term is “allergic rhinitis”. Some people (like me) also suffer with allergic conjunctivitis, or eye inflammation.
People with asthma may find that pollen is a trigger for an asthma flare too.
How to deal with pollen allergy symptoms
Like most allergies, a really good way to deal with pollen allergy symptoms is to reduce your exposure to the culprit. If you know what types of pollen trigger your allergies, you can find out when those types of plants are in season and take steps to avoid exposure on high pollen days as much as possible.
Keep an eye on the pollen forecast in your area
- Try to avoid outside activities on very high pollen days, especially if it is windy.
- For most states in Australia, pollen count forecasts are available during the peak allergy season (spring and summer). AusPollen tracks NSW, Victoria, ACT and Tasmania. AirRater tracks pollen in Tasmania, ACT and the Northern Territory. In South Australia, check the Asthma Australia Adelaide Pollen Count.
- For information about pollen counts in:
- If you suffer from asthma and have an allergy to grass pollen, you should take extra precautions if there is a thunderstorm forecast. This is because Spring storms can cause pollen to split into tiny pieces which can trigger asthma when breathed in. We’ve included a link to more information about “thunderstorm asthma” at the end of this post.
- When pollen levels are high, keep doors and windows closed and try to stay indoors if possible.
- Keep on top of your regular cleaning and use a vacuum with HEPA filters. We love our handy Dyson cordless vacuum with removable, washable HEPA filters.
- Don’t dry your washing outside, as you may bring pollen back inside with your clothes or bedding. If you don’t have a clothes dryer, or don’t want to use it too much, try an indoor clothes line. We have a wall mounted clothes line in the laundry similar to this Leifheit extendable wall dryer. A portable clothes drying rack or airer is another great option.
- Don’t mow the lawn or be outside while someone else is mowing. If you can’t avoid it, try taking a non-sedating antihistamine beforehand and wearing a mask and sunglasses to protect your nose and eyes.
- Try to avoid gardening on high pollen days.
- Do some research on low allergy gardening and choose your plants wisely to help your hay fever. There are some great books on allergy-free gardening on our shop page.
In the car
- Keep the car windows closed.
- Use recirculated air (instead of outside air through the vents).
- Make sure that you have pollen filters on the air conditioning vents and replace them as recommended by your car manufacturer. I’ve just had new cabin air filters installed in my car. Make sure you ask about this when getting your car serviced.
Out and about
- Try to avoid scheduling outdoor activities on high pollen days. (Going for a picnic or a long walk through a farming area on a a hot, windy, high pollen day is not how to deal with pollen allergy, speaking from experience!)
- If you do have a day outside, have a shower and wash your hair when you get home to wash away the pollen.
Seek medical advice
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about medications to help relieve your hay fever symptoms. Options include antihistamines, nasal sprays and eye drops. Some are available over the counter and others require a prescription from your doctor.
- Make sure you take any medications regularly during the period your pollen triggers are in season.
- If you have asthma, make sure you use any preventer medication as directed by your doctor and carry your reliever medication at all times.
- Consider asking for a referral to an allergist for allergy testing and to devise a treatment plan. An allergist can advise you if immunotherapy (desensitisation) is an option.
After suffering with severe pollen allergy symptoms for years, I recently saw an allergist who was able to recommend some changes to my allergy medications. I have also started immunotherapy for specific grass and tree pollens. You can read about my experience with allergy tests for hay fever in our post – What is allergy testing for hay fever really like? and more information about starting immunotherapy here – Important questions to ask about starting allergy shots (immunotherapy)
Did you know that if you have allergies to grass pollen, you may also be at risk of thunderstorm asthma? This is another reason to ensure that you manage your hay fever symptoms well.
Some people with pollen allergies – especially to birch tree pollen – may also suffer from oral allergy syndrome.
References and more information about pollen allergies
For more information about pollen allergies and pollen minimisation, see:
- The Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy’s fact sheet, Pollen Allergy;
- Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia’s helpful resources (brochure and video) on Allergic Rhinitis (Hay Fever);
- National Asthma Council of Australia information on Thunderstorm Asthma.
*Disclaimer: Allergy Spot does not provide medical advice. You should always consult a suitably qualified medical practitioner in respect of your own medical conditions, symptoms or concerns. See our Website Terms for more details.