What is Pollen?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

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.

Allergy related post-nasal drip is typically caused by outdoor plants.
Allergy related post-nasal drip is typically caused by outdoor plants.

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.

Although most forms of pollen are microscopic, an allergy sufferer may sense the presence of pollen by exhibiting an allergic response.
Although most forms of pollen are microscopic, an allergy sufferer may sense the presence of pollen by exhibiting an allergic response.

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.

People with pollen allergies may experience frequent coughing depending on the season.
People with pollen allergies may experience frequent coughing depending on the season.

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.

Pollen can cause airway irritation.
Pollen can cause airway irritation.

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.

Some people experience allergies only seasonally, when the offending pollen is in the air.
Some people experience allergies only seasonally, when the offending pollen is in the air.

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.

Lightheadedness may occur as a result of seasonal allergies.
Lightheadedness may occur as a result of seasonal allergies.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments

SarahGen

Some people hate pollen because of the symptoms pollen causes. I have trouble when plants start blooming and release pollen too. But I don't hate them because I know that they are vital for plants to continue their existence.

I just try to avoid outdoor activities when I know that the plants are in bloom. I've also noticed that there is usually more pollen in the morning. So I get into my car and use the air conditioner until I get to the office. I avoid being outdoors during those hours.

stoneMason

@ZipLine-- I'm not sure why a pollen allergy would develop suddenly. It must be due to your immune system. The immune system can start reacting to things it wasn't reacting to before. It may suddenly start producing histamine in response to pollen. Eating a healthy diet and taking vitamins may help. But there is probably not much that can be done in terms of prevention.

Use decongestant medication and antihistamines to fight the symptoms. Keep in mind that antihistamines can make you drowsy so you might want to avoid them during the day. Unfortunately, that's usually the time when pollen is around the most.

ZipLine

Why would someone with no previous history of pollen allergy suddenly develop this allergy? I did not have pollen allergy my entire life. Suddenly, last year, I developed seasonal allergy to pollen. I started experiencing congestion, sneezing, and runny eyes and nose. I don't understand why this has developed all of the sudden.

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register: