Planting an Ugly Face on Allergies

allergic rhinitisAs allergy season continues for much of the nation, a largely unknown adage rings true: the uglier a flower or weed, the more allergy-inducing its pollen tends to be.

Ragweed, mugwort and pigweed have more than just their unattractive names and unappealing appearance in common, they’re also some of the worst offenders to allergy sufferers.

Of those allergic to pollen-producing plants, 75 percent are allergic to ragweed which can produce up to 1 billion pollen grains per plant throughout a pollen season.

mugwort0003_midThe relationship between allergy-causing pollens and their flowers is something like a beauty pageant,” says Robert Valet, M.D., an allergist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Asthma, Sinus and Allergy Program. “A general rule of thumb is that flowers that smell or look pretty attract insect pollenators, so they are not generally important allergens, because their pollen is not airborne. However, those that are very ugly or plain are meant to disperse pollen in the wind, which is the route most important for allergy.”

Allergy season is divided into spring, summer and fall and for most of the country runs from March to October.

Early spring is typically tree season, with common tree allergens including oak, maple, walnut, pecan and hickory. While many people are concerned about fragrant and flowering trees like the Bradford pear and crabapple they rely on insects instead of the wind to carry their pollen and do not typically trigger allergies.

Amaranthus_retroflexus_020207_1In late spring and early summer, grasses start to pick up their pollen production.  And in late summer and fall, weeds such as ragweed, lamb’s quarter, pigweed, English plantain and mugwort make their presence known.

The pollen count may change from day to day, due to an event like rain – which decreases the pollen in the air temporarily – but once allergy season is underway, anything between a moderate and very high pollen count will aggravate allergy sufferers,” Valet said.

For people with known pollen allergies, simple solutions can include taking an antihistamine before going outside and showering once back inside, and choosing the air conditioner over an open window for cooling homes. If these measures do not relieve the symptoms, Valent suggests going to see an allergist for testing and treatment.

In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to stay away from ugly plants.

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Hot Tips for Cold Weather

While the blizzard of Christmas 2010 may have brought misery to many, it probably brought much-needed relief  to hayfever and outdoor allergy sufferers.

However, winter brings with it a whole new set of allergy and asthma triggers including dust, pet dander and mold. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) offers tips on how to stay sneeze and sniffle free indoors this winter.

  • Reduce moisture in your home to keep dust mites in check. Maintain humidity below 55%, and don’t use a humidifier or a vaporizer.
  • Filter out dust and other allergens by installing a high efficiency furnace filter with a MERV rating of 11 or 12, and be sure to change it every three months.
  • Banish allergens from the bedroom. Keep pets and their dander out, and encase mattresses and pillows with dust-mite proof covers. Limit curtains – use blinds that can be washed instead.
  • Keep it clean. A clean home is especially important for allergy sufferers, who should wear a NIOSH-rated N95 mask while dusting, a chore that should be done regularly.
  • Wash bedding and stuffed animals in hot water every 14 days and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
  • Turn on the fan or open the window to reduce mold growth in bathrooms (while bathing) and kitchens (while cooking). Wear latex-free gloves and clean visible mold with a five-percent bleach solution and detergent.
  • Don’t overlook the garage. Noxious odors or fumes can trigger asthma, so move insecticides, stored gasoline and other irritants to a shed, and don’t start the car and let it run in the garage.
  • Box up books and knick-knacks and limit the number of indoor plants. When you are buying new furniture, like chairs or sofas, opt for leather or other nonporous surfaces to make cleaning easier.

Need more advice on allergies?  Want to get the word out about your allergy brands?  SRxA’s team of world-class allergy advisors can help.