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Guide | December 18, 2023

Understanding Pollen Allergies & Hay fever

With spring comes vibrant flowers, blooming plants and more opportunities to spend time outdoors. Although a time of rebirth, the season also triggers the onset of seasonal hay fever or pollen allergies. For those left wondering how to manage their pollen allergy symptoms, our experts explain the best allergy management recommendations in this comprehensive guide.

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What are pollen allergies?

Why are so many of us affected by pollen allergies? First, it helps to understand what exactly pollen is, including how it is formed. As a fine powdery substance, pollen can best be described as a mass of microspores released by plants and trees. While a nuisance to humans and pets, pollen plays a crucial role in the life cycle of plants. Each grain of pollen consists of a tiny body – typically about 15-100 microns – that is formed in the male structures of seed plants. When pollen grains travel through wind, water or insects to the female part of a flower, this is when fertilisation occurs.

As part of their reproductive cycle, plants, trees and grasses release pollen in the early spring and summer months. However, depending on the climate and the type of plant, pollen season can last the entire year, which explains why some pollen allergies may linger in the cooler months. It is the presence of pollen that causes seasonal rhinitis in humans – a common allergic reaction we often call ‘hay fever’.

The different types of pollen allergies

Hundreds of plant species exist in the world that release pollen into the air and can trigger pollen allergies. When the nose and the eyes become exposed to environmental allergens such as pollens, dust mites, moulds, animal fur and air pollutants, this can result in pollen allergies and hay fever symptoms.

Some common types of pollen allergies in New Zealand can be found below:

Dust made by dust mites: Dust mites are tiny, microscopic organisms that live on dust and are often drawn to the New Zealand climate. Dust mite allergies generally cause milder symptoms than hay fever symptoms and occur all year round. Since dust mites live in mattresses, pillows and bedding, symptoms are usually worse at night and in the morning.

Animal hair: If you experience a pet allergy, you will be familiar with symptoms like sneezing and a runny nose, which are also common symptoms of hay fever. Some people also experience signs of asthma, such as wheezing or difficulty breathing.

Pollen from grasses, weeds or trees:

  • Birch pollen allergies are one of the most common airborne allergens in spring. As these trees bloom, they release tiny pollen grains that can travel through the wind and the air.
  • Oak pollen is considered mildly allergenic when compared to other types of pollen sources. However, this kind of pollen lingers in the air for a considerably longer amount of time, which can cause severe allergic reactions in some individuals.
  • Grass can be a notable trigger of pollen allergies during the warmer spring and summer months. Note that while many grass varieties exist, only a select few can trigger pollen allergy symptoms.
  • One ragweed plant can produce almost 1 billion grains of pollen. This makes these weed types more likely to cause pollen allergies.

Hay fever & pollen allergy symptoms

The symptoms of hay fever can be mild or severe. When experienced, they typically include:

  • sneezing
  • a runny or stuffy nose
  • itchy or watery eyes
  • itchy throat or ears
  • sinus pressure or pain

In some individuals, pollen allergies can lead to non-respiratory symptoms such as:

  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • irritability
  • difficulty sleeping
  • impaired concentration

Other conditions may also present themselves alongside hay fever symptoms. These may include asthma, chronic sinusitis or middle ear infections – also known as otitis media.

How to manage hay fever symptoms

Pollen allergies can disrupt your day-to-day. However, you can alleviate symptoms by implementing a series of management strategies and lifestyle changes at home and outdoors. Learn more about how to minimise hay fever symptoms below.

Steps you can take to manage symptoms of hay fever

Pollen lingers in the air we breathe, so going to great lengths to completely avoid it could wreak havoc on our quality of life and general wellbeing. Luckily, there are steps you can take to limit pollen exposure at home and when travelling or spending time outdoors.

Think ahead: If you can, avoid areas that are likely to trigger your pollen allergies. You can do this by monitoring forecasts before you head out.

Close your windows: Keep those windows closed and consider turning on an air purifier.

Change your clothes after being outdoors: This will not only prevent the pollen from entering your home but will remove the pollen from your body.

Dry your washing indoors: When the pollen count is high, consider avoiding the outdoor washing line. Pollen can cling to bedding and towels, so it’s best to dry your washing indoors on these days, or when the neighbours are mowing the lawn.

Avoid allergy hotspots: Try not to exercise in or around grassy areas.

Consider medications: Allergy symptoms can often be alleviated with medications and treatments, such as:

  • Antihistamines: considering purchasing over the counter or prescription medications. These types of medications are formulated to block the release of histamine, a chemical your immune system releases, and help to relieve symptoms.
  • Nasal sprays: corticosteroid sprays may help to reduce inflammation and congestion in the nasal passages.

Before trying a new medication, consult with a healthcare professional.

Lifestyle changes to help with pollen allergies

Since pollen is more common throughout the warmer months, it can be difficult to avoid it completely. However, there are steps you can take to help minimise allergy symptoms, such as:

  • Regularly using a vacuum cleaner on floors: using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter can aid in removing pollen allergens from your living space.
  • Opting for allergen-proof bedding: aside from helping to combat pollen allergens, switching to a more allergy-friendly bedding material such as cotton, bamboo or linen can also reduce the prevalence of bacteria and dust mites.
  • Removing pollen from pets: if you experience pollen allergies or a pet allergy, wipe your pet’s paws when they re-enter the home and keep their beds out of bedrooms.

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Use an air purifier in the home

Air purifiers are specially designed to tackle invisible health risks like pollen and bacteria. With multiple layers of filtration to create the cleanest air possible, a Dyson air purifier allows you and your family to enjoy a cleaner, healthier home, in any season. Dyson’s purifying technology also senses air quality, so you can monitor and drive away pollutants and pollen from any living space.

5 fascinating facts about pollen

Palynology – the study of pollen and spores – is a subject studied by Dyson air quality scientists. Although pollen can be a major inconvenience to humans and pets, the fine, powdery substance plays a vital role in the life cycle of plants, and this role is often misunderstood. Discover 5 surprising facts about pollen below.

  • In June 2023, Allergy NZ Chief executive Mark Dixon said that a third of the population suffered from airborne allergies. 2
  • Our furry friends can develop pollen allergies, too. When pets experience hay fever, it can present differently to humans. Common signs of hay fever in pets include red eyes, ears and paws, excessive scratching and fatigue.
  • The air quality we breathe in can affect hay fever symptoms. When compared to the countryside, urban areas typically have lower pollen counts. However, pollen can mix with particulate matter found in air pollution, which can make an allergic reaction more severe.
  • Pollen helps us to understand history. In fact, pollen grains are often found in geologic sediments – both new and ancient. This means that fossilised pollen can tell us much about the origin and the history of plant life. Sometimes, this can even reveal surprising information about how old a plant species is.
  • Pollen can assist with solving criminal cases. In criminal investigations, pollen samples from hair or clothes can be matched with matter found at a crime scene.

To manage pollen allergies and ensure a better quality of life, it helps to understand the key facts, causes, symptoms and learn the best ways to cope in a pollen-filled world. For personalised advice and medical guidance, consult a healthcare professional.

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