Fact #1: Terminology
In spring, we generally refer to so-called “hay fever”. However, doctors stopped using this term some time ago. The reason: many people have allergic reactions to the pollen of several flowering plants and are not, as was previously thought, exclusively allergic to hay and grass pollen. Additionally, even during climatically milder times, the last grass and herb pollen is still floating in the air in late November, while the first hazel pollen already appears at the beginning of December. As a result, many people struggle with the symptoms of a pollen allergy for almost the entire year.
Fact #2: Occurrence
In Germany, more than 12 million people suffer from allergy symptoms. This amounts to around 15 % of the total population. Children and young people between the ages of 8 and 16 are the most affected. Most recently, the allergy has also become more prevalent among people around the age of 50.
Depending on the allergy, even small amounts of pollen can already be enough to trigger a person’s symptoms. Allergy sufferers are most commonly affected by trees, grass, and herbs.
Fact #3: Triggers
The allergies are caused by pollen from wind-pollinated plants. Unlike plants pollinated by insects, they must produce particularly large amounts of pollen during the flowering period in order to ensure pollination. Depending on wind speed, the pollen can travel over 100 km. The only thing they are susceptible to is rain. Additionally, climate change and rising temperatures are contributing to longer flowering periods for most plants.
Fact #4: Symptoms
Pollen contains water-soluble proteins which are released through contact with the human mucous membrane. The pollen is harmless to begin with. However, for people with allergies, it results in the development of antibodies and the release of inflammatory substances. The release of a secretion causes allergy sufferers to experience itching or sneezing, as well as reddening of the mucous membrane.
The following symptoms are also typical for a pollen allergy:
- A blocked or running nose
- Itching or watery eyes, conjunctival redness
- Itching or stinging in the mouth or throat and in the ear canals
- Dry cough and shortness of breath
- Skin redness, worsening of neurodermatitis
- Tiredness, headaches and aching limbs, lack of sleep
Fact #5: Treatment and prevention
The best and most important way of avoiding symptoms is to avoid the triggers. Here are a few tips on how to do that:
- It’s important to keep your bedroom mostly free of pollen. Windows should be kept shut, or only be opened for ventilation early in the morning or late in the evening. As pollen sticks to hair and clothing, it is advisable to wash your hair before going to bed and to change your clothes outside the bedroom. Bedding should also be changed regularly.
- Furthermore, laundry should not be hung out to dry outside. While driving, windows should also be kept shut and outdoor activities should ideally be scheduled for before 8 am in towns after 6 pm in the countryside.
The symptoms of a pollen allergy can also be temporarily alleviated by medication. Using saline nasal sprays and nasal rinsing is recommended. A further possible treatment is specific immunotherapy with allergens, during which the immune system is supposed to grow accustomed to the pollen. First, it must be established which allergens the body is reacting to. The affected person is then given the allergens either via injection, or as a tablet or through drops. While there is no guarantee of success for this kind of treatment, it is meant to reduce symptoms long term and also prevent against other allergens. The downside: this kind of therapy is carried out over several years and so requires patience and perseverance.
Quelle: European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation (ecarf.org); MDR Wissen
Bild-Untertitel: Spring is approaching, trees and plants are starting to bloom – for many people, this is also the start of the “hay fever” season.