Pollen Counts Are High, You're Feeling Low

March 6, 2018

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

Your nose starts to itch, your eyes get watery, and then rapid-fire sneezing--before you know it, you have emptied an entire tissue box in a futile attempt to dam up your nasal flow. Oh no, it’s pollen season already?!?!

The Food and Drug Administration estimates approximately 36 million people in the United States suffer from seasonal allergies. “Allergic rhinitis” or hay fever is the result of your immune system releasing the chemical histamine to remove foreign invaders. At times, though, the response can be a little too good. Just like a rocket launcher used to remove a mouse would leave a trail of destruction, your immune system’s response can make its mark with mucus and tears, leaving you to squint through red eyes and grab every paper product in sight to absorb the unrelenting river running from your nose.

While many individuals are personally aware how they feel when hay fever strikes, we’ve provided some information here to help clear the air (not of pollen, but of some confusion around the subject).

Can you live a pollen-free life?  

In a word, no. Unless you live somewhere with no plants or trees (Mars anyone?), pollen is a given. Some areas of the country are worse than others--the southeast region of the United States has a number of states that rank high in pollen. According to Pollentec.com in 2013, Lexington, Kentucky had the highest rate of pollen. North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, Arkansas, and Missouri are also states that have higher pollen counts. Michigan and Wisconsin tend to have high pollen numbers during the fall.

Certain states, such as Arizona and Nevada, historically had fewer high pollen plant species, but this isn’t the case today. People moving to these areas transported non-native high pollen species, so these states are no longer sanctuaries for allergy sufferers.  

What, exactly, is the “pollen count”?

Pollen count is defined as the amount of each type of pollen in the air at a given time. It is given as grams of pollen per cubic meter in a 24-hour period. The level of each type of pollen is combined to reach a total number. A high pollen count is considered 9.7 to 12.0 grams of pollen per cubic meter.

To check your local pollen count, go to Pollen.com and view Today’s Allergy Forecast Map. This map provides up-to-date pollen data from all fifty states and major metropolitan areas. Another helpful resource for allergy sufferers is Allergy Alert--a downloadable mobile application from Pollen.com.

What Do You Do When the Pollen Count is High?

What are my options when the pollen count is high? First, don’t blindly step outside to be doubled over in a fit of sneezing--then it’s already too late. If you’re an allergy sufferer your best defense is knowledge and preparation.

  • Keep an eye on your local weather--dry, windy, sunny days drive high pollen counts. Rain or moisture as well as cloudy conditions tends to keep pollen numbers down. Spring and fall when plants are blooming is prime pollen time.
  • Get tested. Take the time to learn what specific plant or tree pollens bring you the worst reactions and when those types of plants and trees bloom.
  • Plan travel and outdoor activities accordingly. Visit places with less vegetation--like beaches, mountain tops or arid desert. Pollen counts tend to be highest in the morning, from 5 am to 10 am, so it may be wise to stay indoors during this time and save dog walking, gardening, or your daily jog for later in the day.
  • If you have to be outside, suit up -- medicate in advance, consider applying a thin layer of Vaseline around the edge of nostrils, or use a surgical mask to avoid inhaling the pollen, and which can help prevent pollen from entering the body.

Even with high pollen levels, most activities can be maintained if reaction isn’t severe. Any level of breathing difficulty is indicative of a severe and possibly life-threatening condition--and should be dealt with accordingly. By staying informed and planning ahead most of the suffering and mountains of used tissues can be avoided.                                                                                    

What if You’re Not Sure It’s Allergies?

If you get caught by surprise and your allergies become unmanageable--don’t suffer! Maybe you’re not sure if it’s allergies at all? At First Stop Health, we have your back 24/7. One easy phone call and your questions will be answered--and relief from those watery eyes and dripping nose will be on the way.

Originally published Mar 6, 2018 1:00:00 PM.