Achew! Pollen season is upon us again.

Oak pollen

Oak pollen is released for seven to 10 days from an individual tree, but because there are so many different species, the spring allergy season usually lasts six to eight weeks.

Photo Credit: Gerald L. Klingaman

All flowering plants produce pollen, but as nature’s evolved to create different methods of pollination, only a relative few actually cause the usual coughing, sneezing and other various ailments that mark the season.

Garden flowers aren’t really designed for humankind, but to attract the attention of the birds and bees. Plants with pretty, showy flowers are almost always insect-pollinated and usually have pollen grains that are too large to cause allergies. It’s the plants that don’t have the showy flowers – cedars, oaks, pines, hickories, grass and the all-important ragweed – that make the lives of thousands of allergy-sufferers miserable each year. These plants have chosen wind pollination as their means of procreation, and an effective method it is.

The nightly weather report always gives us a “pollen count,” courtesy of certified counting centers in each state. These counts are usually done as a service of an allergy clinic to aid in its diagnosis of allergen susceptibility. Allergy-collecting sites are perched up in the air atop a tall tower or on a rooftop. (They need to be above the tree line so they can get an average count.)

So how does the counting system work?

Many centers use a device called the Burkhard Pollen Counter. This machine uses a vacuum to collect an air sample over a 24-hour period. Particulates in the air are deposited onto a clear gel, collected daily and then stained. Spores are counted under a microscope and identified as to species and number recorded. Then a formula is used to figure the actual count to the number of spores per given volume of air, and the results are reported to the National Allergy Bureau™ (NAB™).

Using the data collected across the nation, the NAB has established standards ranging from “low” to “very high” as based on human response. Counts above 1,500 grains per cubic meter of air are considered very high for tree pollen. In areas populated with lots of trees, counts of over 5,000 are common during the spring blooming season.

Allergy sufferers can make it through the pollen season with minimum discomfort by following some commonsense suggestions:

  • Minimize outdoor activity between 5 and 10 a.m., the period when pollen counts are usually the highest.
  • Keep your house and car windows closed, and use the air conditioner to stay cool.
  • Keep all filters clean, as well as the inside of your house.
  • Over-the-counter antihistamines can help alleviate allergy problems. But if your allergies are ongoing and severe, allergy doctors can prescribe treatments that may better combat your specific problem.

Good luck to you this allergy season – and gesundheit!