Understanding the Pollen Count
|Because of the unusually warm winter, allergy season is hitting
early and hard this year, and you'll surely hear a lot of buzz about
the pollen count. But what does this number mean, and how is it
obtained? Before we explore these questions, let's take a closer
look at pollen itself.
When weather conditions are favorable, seed plants begin to produce
a fine powder known as
which consists of microscopic pollen grains. Pollen
grains carry male gametes, and they are transferred to
female plants in the process of pollination.
Entomophilous ("insect-loving") plants typically have bright flowers
and produce heavy, protein-rich pollen that is transferred by
pollinating insects like bees. This type of pollen poses no threat
to allergy sufferers because it is too heavy to travel through the
air. Anemophilous ("wind-loving") plants produce great quantities of
lightweight pollen for wind dispersal. This invisible airborne
pollen is to blame for allergies.
Allergy to pollen is known as hay fever, seasonal allergic rhinitis,
or pollinosis. Various trees, grasses, and weeds produce the
spring time pollen that irritates allergy sufferers. Ragweed is the
most prolific producer of pollen. It is estimated to cause about 75%
of pollen allergies.
Common symptoms of hay fever include: sneezing fits; a stuffy,
watery nose; swollen, itchy eyes, nose, throat, or mouth; headaches;
sore throat; insomnia; and difficulty breathing. If experienced year
after year, these symptoms can worsen and lead to chronic sinusitis
The amount of pollen in the air determines whether hay fever
symptoms will develop. A pollen count tells us how much pollen
collects in a certain amount of air over a certain amount of time.
It is usually expressed in grains of pollen per cubic meter over a
24-hour period. Pollen grains are collected using air-sampling
devices that trap them on a sticky surface. Then an expert counts
the pollen grains using a microscope. The counting process can take
several hours when the pollen count is high.
Similar to a weather forecast, a pollen forecast is a prediction of
future pollen levels and helps allergy sufferers plan their outdoor
activities and medication regimens. Specific for geographical
regions, pollen forecasts take into account pollen counts,
temperatures, precipitation, weather forecasts, and other natural
Allergen avoidance is the best method of preventing allergic
symptoms, but it can be hard to avoid pollen during the spring
because it's everywhereboth indoors and out. However, you can
reduce your exposure to pollen by following a few simple tips: Limit
outdoor activity when the pollen count is high. This will decrease
the amount of pollen you inhale. Pollen counts tend to be highest in
the morning and lowest after rainfall. Beware of hot, dry, windy
days and welcome rainy days that wash the pollen to the ground.
When you have to go outdoors, shower and change your clothes
immediately afterwards because pollen sticks to clothing, skin, and
hair. If you have a pet, it can also unknowingly carry pollen into
the house. If you have to work in the yard, wear an
allergy relief mask
to block pollen and other allergens.
air purifiers to remove microscopic pollen allergens from your
home. Airborne pollen particles have many pathways into your home,
but you can make sure they don't stick around by using a HEPA air
Keep windows closed and use air-conditioning during allergy season.
If you must open windows, use
window filters to allow fresh air into your home while keeping
airborne allergens out.
will keep pollen particles from circulating in your home, while frequent vacuuming with a
vacuum cleaner will get rid of the pollen that collects
in your carpet.