Yes, pollen is an allergen. Yes, it causes allergic rhinitis or seasonal allergies. It isn’t a unique phenomenon because pollen allergies plague roughly a fifth of the American population. So, how? How can something as harmless as pollen cause sniffles, runny noses, and other allergy symptoms?
To start, pollen is the male plant’s reproductive component; it is airborne, microscopic, and present in huge amounts during the plant’s pollination season. As a result, the properties of pollen are perfect for contacting the eyes and entering the airways of our bodies.
Many people are fine with pollen, as it poses little or no interaction with their bodies. However, for the unlucky minority, pollen aggravates the body to the point which there are visible allergy symptoms. A fun fact: Most allergy sufferers do not experience allergy symptoms toward their allergen upon initial contact. Why? The reason is simple.
Upon the first encounter, your body begins to recognize that the pollen allergen is foreign. It is not until the second encounter – usually next year – that it launches a full-scale assault against the allergen. And it accomplishes this through a counter-intuitive mechanism.
Your body is magical: It can target foreign substances and actively destroy them through the immune system. However, it is sometimes overly magical. That is the case with pollen allergies. Your body’s immune system interprets the pollen allergen as harmful foreign substance. Using specialized cells, it releases histamine, a compound that targets cells the pollen touches by inflaming them. This causes blood to flow to the affected areas and allows for white blood cells and certain proteins to remove the allergen. When histamine targets your eyes and airways, it causes the visible allergy symptoms of runny nose, sniffles, itchy eyes, coughing, and more.
So, what can you do about the pollen? You can’t, but you can be more proactive toward your pollen exposure. Here is a pollen tracker to monitor the pollen levels. You can find more resources in our blog.
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