Spring is finally here. The only way Chicagoans can really tell is by the endless days of rain sprinkled with a warm sunny day here and there. Although it’s nice to finally be able to sport a lighter coat and throw the bulky one back in the closet, what’s not so nice are the itchy eyes, stuffy noses and fits of sneezing.
Approximately 35 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies or hay fever according to the Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. When pollen comes in contact with those suffering, the immune system releases chemicals called histamines to battle the allergens. It’s these histamines that are responsible for the hay fever symptoms of sneezing, headache, runny nose and watery eyes.
Geography and weather are the secondary culprits of seasonal allergies. In the south, allergy season can begin in January since growing starts earlier in the year. Dry and windy conditions disperse pollen and mold, creating the worst weather for allergies. Rainy and humid conditions dampen pollen and make it less airborne creating the best weather for allergies. So we may be sick and tired of the rain and suffering from allergies, but at least we don’t have it as bad as the people suffering in dryer climates.
Plants to Avoid
In the spring, you need to worry about the trees. They are the primary source of airborne pollen. In the summer, grasses take over. In late summer and fall, weed pollen rules the day. The worst offenders are the plants that rely on wind instead of insects to carry the pollen — they tend to produce the most pollen.
- Mountain Cedar trees (popular in central Texas) and Red Cedar trees (prevalent on the East Coast)
- Oak trees located throughout the United States
- Elm trees in the central and eastern regions
- Maple trees stretch across the United States
- Red Alder trees are located in cold and moist areas of the Western United States
- Sweet Vernal Grass is spread throughout fields and roadsides across the United States
Specific to Illinois — Sweet Cherry, Sweet Gum and Tall Amaranth
Safe Plants (for most people)
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, typically any plant with big, vibrant flowers are safe because you would have to come in close contact for their allergy-causing agents to affect you. Therefore, dogwoods, redbuds and magnolias are usually safe as well as cacti, rose, lilac, pear, plum, daffodil, hibiscus, sunflowers and tulips.
Reducing Exposure to Pollen
- Check the pollen forecast on www.weather.com or via your local news before heading outside.
- Stay inside during the peak pollen hours of 5am-10am.
- Keep doors and windows shut and utilize your air conditioning instead. Window and air conditioning units typically have filters that reduce pollen exposure.
- Consider exercising indoors or do so after it rains when pollen counts are low.
- Drive with your car windows up instead of down.
- Wear glasses or sunglasses outside to minimize pollen contact with your eyes.
- After you’ve been outdoors, wash your hands to reduce the transfer of pollen from hands to face and consider changing clothes or showering to fully remove all pollen.
- Keep outdoor pets out of the bedroom and off of the furniture.
- Avoid hanging clothes outside to dry.
If all else fails, there’s always a myriad of over the counter allergy medications that will console your symptoms. You can also consult with your physician for a skin or blood test to determine your allergy triggers which will help determine the medication that will work best for you. Above all, enjoy the slightly warmer weather and know that summer is just a shout away!
Research & Community Education