Pollen Allergies

Pollen is comprised of a powdery substance whose individual grains contain the male part (i.e., anthers) of seed-bearing plants. The pollen causes the female part of the same type of flower to produce seeds. Pollen is carried to other plants via the wind or by insects. It is when the pollen is dispersed by the wind that individuals are exposed to it by breathing in and inhaling the pollen-infested air. As a result, certain individuals become sensitized and develop allergies to pollen. People who develop pollen allergies may manifest their symptoms in various manners. Some individuals develop allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever) and suffer from mostly nasal symptoms. Others are affected mostly around and in their eyes and acquire a condition termed allergic conjunctivitis. Still other people can develop asthma as a result of the exposure to pollen.

The amount and type of pollen released into the air is dependent on various weather factors as well as the time of year. The air temperature, humidity, rain, and wind speed can and do affect the amount of pollen in the air. Pollen counts are highest on dry, warm, and windy days. The pollen counts tend to be the highest in the early mornings. The amount of pollen in the air at a given time can be measured and is published to the public as the pollen count. You can find out today’s pollen count in the Washington, DC Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area by clicking “Today’s Pollen Count” at the top right of our website. The time of year also is a major factor in determining the type of pollen that is in the air. In general, tree pollen is present in the early Spring, while grass pollen is present in the late Spring. Ragweed and other weed pollen are prevalent in the late Summer and early Fall. In the Washington, DC metro area, the trees begin to pollinate in late February, peak in mid- to late-April, and end in late-May or early-June. The grasses begin to pollinate in late-April to early-May, peak in late-May or early-June, and end in August. Ragweed, the principal weed to affect most sensitive individuals, generally begins to pollinate in mid-August, peak in late September, and end in late-October coinciding with the first frost.

In the Washington, DC metro region, there are specific species of trees, grasses, and weeds that are endemic to that area. The most common tree pollens in the area include birch, maple, oak, cedar, hickory, ash, beech, cottonwood, poplar, sycamore, alder, elm, and mulberry. Common grass pollens include Timothy, Bermuda, Johnson, Kentucky bluegrass, meadow fescue, and rye. Similarly, the most common weeds in the Washington, DC area include and ragweed, lamb’s quarters, English plantain, pigweed, cocklebur, mugwort, and sorrel. Of course, there are other varieties of trees, grasses, and weeds in the Washington, DC region but these other varieties are not as prevalent as the ones mentioned above.

It is interesting to note that the “pretty” trees (i.e., flowering trees and plants) generally do not cause allergies when compared to the “ugly” trees (i.e., non-flowering trees and plants). The reason this is true is that “pretty” trees (e.g., cherry, dogwood, magnolia, eastern redbud) have pollen that is heavy in weight and thus are not dispersed into the air as much as the lighter pollens found with “ugly” trees (e.g., birch, maple, oak). If the pollen is not in the air, individuals do not become exposed and thus sensitized to it and allergies to the pollen do not occur. “Pretty” trees consequently need to rely on bees to cross-pollinate since the wind is unable to efficiently disperse their heavy pollen. They have flowers in order to attract bees. Bees will land on the flowers and the pollen sticks to their abdomens. The bees then fly to another tree and land on a new flower and simultaneously cross-pollinates this flower. On the other hand, “ugly” trees have adapted to having no flowers by having pollen that is light in weight. They depend on the wind to cross-pollinate. It is through exposure to the light-weight pollen in the air that sensitive individuals will develop their allergies.

The most common symptoms of pollen allergies may include sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip, itchy nose, itchy eyes, watery eyes, redness of the eyes, itchy throat, sinus pressure, sinus headaches, snoring, fatigue, wheezing, chest tightness, coughing, and/or shortness of breath. It is not uncommon for allergic individuals to develop sinus infections as a result of their allergies.

The diagnosis of pollen allergies is performed by a board certified allergist such as the ones at Black & Kletz Allergy. The diagnosis begins with a comprehensive history and physical examination. Allergy testing by skin testing or blood testing is usually done in order to ascertain the cause of the allergy. Depending on the patient, pulmonary function tests may be performed if symptoms of asthma are present.

The treatment of pollen allergies depends on the type and severity of symptoms. Treatment usually begins with prevention (i.e., avoiding the offending allergen, if possible). A wide array of medications is available to treat pollen allergies. They include antihistamines, decongestants, leukotriene antagonists, nasal corticosteroids, nasal antihistamines, nasal anticholinergics, nasal decongestants, eye drops, inhaled bronchodilators, inhaled corticosteroids, inhaled anticholinergics, and biologicals. Allergy shots (i.e., allergy injections, allergy immunotherapy, allergy desensitization, allergy hyposensitization) are very effective as they work in 80-85% of individuals with allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and asthma. Most individuals are on allergy shots for 3-5 years. Note: Allergy shots are even more effective for insect sting venom allergies (e.g., bees, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets).

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have been diagnosing and treating pollen-induced allergies such as allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and asthma for many years in both adults and children.  Black & Kletz Allergy has 3 convenient office locations in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area. Our offices are located in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA. All of the offices have on-site parking.  In addition, the Washington, DC and McLean, VA locations are Metro accessible and there is a free shuttle that runs between the McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line.  To schedule an appointment, please call us or alternatively you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day.  The allergy specialists of Black & Kletz Allergy are always ready to help you with your allergy, asthma, sinus, dermatological, and immunological needs.  Black & Kletz is dedicated to providing outstanding allergy care to you and your family as we have been doing in the Washington, DC metropolitan area for more than 50 years.