Understanding and Treating Pollen Allergy

by Kathi MacNaughton Health Professional

In this post, I will talk about the various types of pollen allergy and how to manage them. Pollen allergy is probably the most common type of nasal allergy, resulting in symptoms such as runny and stuffy nose, sneezing, wheezing (if you have asthma too) and even eye allergy symptoms like itchiness, weeping and burning.

But What IS Pollen?

First of all, let me define the term "pollen". Pollens are tiny, egg-shaped cells in flowering plants that are necessary to fertilize the plant. The average pollen particle is too small to be seen with the naked eye-it's less than the width of an average strand of human hair.

And here is something else. Pollen is not really a harmful substance in many people. It's just that when you have allergies, your body's immune system interprets the tiny pollen particles your breathe in as dangerous invaders and mounts a defense system that results in your allergy symptoms.

Pollen counts vary greatly through the year and there are also different types of pollens active at different times during the year. The 3 main types of pollen are:

  • Tree pollen, most prevalent in the spring

  • Grass pollen, most prevalent during late spring and summer

  • Weed pollen, most prevalent during late summer and autumn

Tracking Local Pollen Levels

One way to manage pollen allergy is to reduce your exposure to the pollen in the air. You can do that by knowing when levels are high and staying indoors in air conditioning with the windows closed during those times.

This article goes into detail on tracking pollen counts.

Are All Trees, Grasses and Weeds Potentially Problematic Pollens Producers?

The answer to this question is a qualified no. Although all living plants produces pollen, not all pollen seems to trigger allergies. Here is a rundown of the species in each category that produce problematic pollens...

Trees. When it comes to trees, less than 100 species are known to cause allergies. These are the most common:

  • Elm

  • Hickory

  • Olive

  • Pecan

  • Ash

  • Box elder

  • Cottonwood

  • Maple

  • Poplar

  • Willow

  • Cedar

Most tree pollen allergies strike during early spring, usually after March 15, but cedar allergies are more often associated with winter pollen allergies in warm climates like Texas, because that is when the cedar tree is pollinating.

Grass. Like trees, not all grasses produce allergy-causing pollens. The main culprits are:

  • Bermuda

  • Johnson

  • Kentucky blue

  • Orchard

  • Sweet vernal

  • Timothy

Grasses begin emitting pollens in late spring and throughout the summer.

Weeds. The following weeds are common allergens that bloom in late summer and early fall.

  • Cockleweed

  • Goosefoot

  • Nettle

  • Russian thistle (tumbleweed)

  • Sages & sagebrush

  • Sheep sorrel

  • Smotherweed

But by far, the worst weed for pollen is ragweed, which begins pollinating in mid-August and continues until the first frost. A single ragweed plant can release millions of pollen grains into the air each year.

Kathi  MacNaughton
Meet Our Writer
Kathi MacNaughton

Kathi is an experienced consumer health education writer, with a prior career in nursing that spanned more than 30 years — much of it in the field of home health care. Over the past 15 years, she's been an avid contributor for a number of consumer health websites, specializing in asthma, allergy, and COPD. She writes not only as a healthcare professional, but also as a lifelong sufferer of severe allergies and mild asthma, and as a caregiver for her mother with COPD.