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What Is Pollen?

Allergy related post-nasal drip is typically caused by outdoor plants.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 July 2014
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From a health perspective, pollen is both vital and annoying. It is an important part of plant reproduction and can result in things like many of the foods people enjoy eating. Yet certain forms of it also create allergic reaction, usually called hayfever, which can be difficult to experience and sometimes worsens with age.

These male cells of plants are analogous to things like animal sperm in their purpose because they frequently have to travel in order to create fertilization or pollination with other parts of plants. This traveling takes place in numerous ways. Wind can blow these cells, insects pick them up and deposit them elsewhere, they may ride in animal fur, and even humans carry them in hair and clothes.

Many people make assumptions about pollen that are not always accurate. Since some cells are larger than others they are highly visible, and seeing this, people with allergies may assume these are the worst allergens. Typically, that is not the case. Smaller, less easy to visualize cells are more likely to be inhaled easily and tend to be the greatest offenders in causing conditions like hayfever.

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Another assumption is that these cells only come from one source, such as flowers, grasses, or trees. Actually, they come from many sources and people with hayfever might be allergic to a lot more than grass-based pollen, though ragweed cells are considered very likely to induce allergy. Yet many people are also significantly affected by these cells as produced by certain trees or flowers.

When people are allergic to pollen, what this really means is that contact, often through inhalation of pollen cells, causes the body to produce a histamine response. Exposure to these reproductive cells creates inflammation in the mucus membranes and can result in numerous symptoms, which include runny or itchy nose, post-nasal drip, itchy eyes, occasionally asthma, coughing, and others. There tends to be no fever in this immune response and people may not be allergic to hay.

Hay fever may have peak seasons, when the most pollen is present in the air. It may be hard to avoid, though people can take medications that help reduce histamine response. It is also helpful to minimize outdoor activities when high cell counts are reported, and to make sure to wash body and hair thoroughly after time spent outside. Since most forms of these irritating cells are microscopic, they’re not likely to be seen or felt on the body. An allergy sufferer may still know they’re present, anyway, by exhibiting allergic response.

Many regions publish useful counts of certain pollens to help people determine those times when allergic response is most likely. Yet many people don’t know specifically what plants create problems for them. Allergy testing can help to determine this, and can also rule in or out the possibility that allergies to other substances, like dust mites, might be resulting in hayfever symptoms too.

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