Der Frühling naht, Bäume und Pflanzen beginnen zu blühen - für viele fängt damit auch die Zeit des "Heuschnupfens" an.
Der Frühling naht, Bäume und Pflan­zen begin­nen zu blühen – für viele fängt damit auch die Zeit des „Heuschnup­fens“ an.Bild: Foto 132308045 © Volodymyr Tverdokh­lib – Dreamstime.com

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.