A scanning electron microscope image of pollen grains from sunflower, morning glory, prairie hollyhock, oriental lily, evening primrose, and castor bean.
Image taken by the Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility at Dartmouth College
The abnormally cold temperatures of the 2016-2017 winter have delayed the onset seasonal allergies for sufferers around the Leschi area, myself included. But with the blooming flowers and budding trees, we’ve seen these past few weeks, my seasonal allergies have once again started to flare up. Now that we are in April, hay fever season is kicking into full gear.
All allergic reactions occur when the body’s immune system identifies a normally harmless substance as a hazard to the body’s health. When a person is exposed to an allergen for the very first time, they do not experience an allergic reaction. However, some individuals develop antibodies to these allergens, and the next time an allergen enters the body, the antibodies produce “histamines,” which then act on various areas of the body and create different types of allergic reactions.
Hay fever is the body’s allergic reaction to pollen. The severity of hay fever symptoms varies among different people, but it is extremely rare for a person to go into life-threatening anaphylactic shock because they have been exposed to pollen. That’s a good thing, because pollen is pretty much everywhere!
In the springtime, trees are the most common source of pollen, with cedar and maple trees being particularly notorious offenders in our neck of the woods. In summer, grasses are the most prevalent source of pollen, and by autumn, weeds are the main offenders. Allergies are generally worst on breezy days when lots of pollen has been knocked off plants, but if it is too windy, cleaner air from the upper atmosphere will mix down and pollen concentrations will decrease. Pollen concentrations are usually lowest if it is raining cats and dogs, as raindrops capture pollen and other aerosols and remove them from the atmosphere.
There are a variety of medications you can use to mitigate hay fever. Many are “antihistamines,” which reduce the amount of histamines your body produces so you don’t have as much of an allergic reaction. Some, like Benadryl, cause drowsiness, while others, like Claritin, keep you perfectly awake. However, in recent years, prescription nasal sprays such as Flonase have become available over-the-counter, and I’ve had better success with these. These are steroids instead of antihistamines, and are stronger and longer lasting than most antihistamines. If springtime has got you feeling under the weather, get a nasal spray, and you’ll be back to feeling better in no time!
Charlie Phillips, a Madrona resident, received his B.S. in atmospheric sciences from the University of Washington and works in Portland as a meteorologist forecasting wind energy along the Columbia River Gorge. Check out his weather website at weathertogether.us.