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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Who’s to blame for your allergies?

Are you one of the 35 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies? If so you’re probably not cheering the official end of winter.  But before you start blaming Persephone – goddess of Spring, for your symptoms you may want to look a little closer to home.

Many of the everyday things you’re doing, from what you eat to how you clean your home may be interfering with relief from your stuffy nose, sneezing, sniffling or other symptoms.

People with spring allergies often don’t realize how many things can aggravate their allergy symptoms so they just muddle along and hope for an early end to the season,” says allergist Myron Zitt, M.D.“But there’s no reason to suffer. A few simple adjustments in habits and treatment can make springtime much more enjoyable.”

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) advises people with spring allergies to be on the lookout for five things that can aggravate suffering.

1. Eating fruits and vegetables – Many people with seasonal allergies also suffer from pollen food allergy syndrome (also called oral allergy syndrome), a cross-reaction between the similar proteins in certain types of fruits, vegetables and the allergy-causing pollen. 1:5 people with grass allergies and as many as 70% of people with birch tree allergies suffer from the condition, which can make your lips tingle and swell and your mouth itch.

If you’re allergic to birch or alder trees, you might have a reaction to celery, cherries or apples. If you have grass allergies, tomatoes, potatoes or peaches may bother you. Usually the reaction is simply annoying and doesn’t last long. But up to 9% of people have reactions that affect a part of their body beyond their mouth and almost 2% can suffer a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.

2. Using the wrong air filter – Using an air filter to keep your home pollen-free is a good idea, but be sure it’s the right kind. Studies show inexpensive central furnace/air conditioning filters and ionic electrostatic room cleaners aren’t helpful – and in fact the latter releases ions, which can be an irritant. Whole-house filtration systems do work, but change the filters regularly or you could be doing more harm than good.

3. Opening your windows – When your windows are open, the pollen can drift inside, settle into your carpet, furniture and car upholstery and continue to torture you. So keep your house and car windows shut during allergy season.

4. Procrastinating – You may think you can put off or even do without medication this spring, but the next thing you know you’re stuffed up, sneezing and downright miserable. Instead, get the jump on allergies by taking your medication before the season gets under way.

5. Self medicating – Perhaps you’re not sure exactly what’s making you feel awful so you switch from one medication to the next hoping for relief.

This spring, your best bet is to see an allergist, who can determine just what’s triggering your symptoms and suggest the most appropriate treatment.