Pollen problems: how to avoid allergy issues this season

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — It’s no secret that pollen season has descended upon Alabama. You can see the evidence on cars everywhere.

But the yellow stuff you see likely isn’t what causes the symptoms you’re experiencing. That’s according to Dr. John Anderson, an allergist with the Alabama Allergy & Asthma Center. He says the yellow dust is pine pollen, which isn’t a problem for most people. It’s elm, oak and pecan pollen that typically creates the issues.

“Those plants have a much smaller pollen grain,” Anderson said. “So that pollen floats in the air longer, and we can breathe it in and start to have problems with our eyes and nose and lungs.”

Tree pollen is in peak season this time of year. Later in the spring, grass pollen will be more prevalent. The summer will bring weed pollen. But allergies to pollen, whatever type, are probably more common now than they were 200 or so years ago. Anderson says we’ve become a cleaner society, and that has miseducated our immune system in a way that causes allergic responses.

“What’s happening is that the immune system is misidentifying or mislabeling these pollen grains, or the proteins within them, as potential germs instead of thinking of them as sort of this harmless plant material that they shouldn’t bother with,” he said.

The good news: there are ways to prevent pollen problems, and not just with the usual nasal sprays, antihistamines and eye drops. It’s also about understanding pollen and simply avoiding it.

“Pollination is an early-morning activity,” Anderson said. “And so if you’re outdoorsy and want to get out and run and enjoy the beautiful spring, the afternoon hours are better than the early-morning hours.”

Allergists are always working on ways to treat allergies, and recent studies have led to the creation of allergy tablets that dissolve under the tongue.

“We have tablets for certain grass pollen, ragweed pollen… dust mite.”

And they have pollen forecast calendars that show which types of pollen are more prevalent each month. So if you know which ones bother you, you’ll know when they might cause problems.

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