Allergy & Asthma-Kent H. DeYarman, MD

Topics in Allergy

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Reducing Exposure to Pollen:


Pollen allergies are a particular problem in Western Oregon and Northern California. Some of the highest pollen counts in the world are found in the valleys between the Coast Range and the Cascade mountains. In the Willamette Valley commercial grass seed agriculture increases pollen exposure even more but pollen counts are nearly as high in the Rogue Valley.


The major pollen seasons in Southwestern Oregon and Northern California are:


1. TREE POLLENS-MARCH THROUGH EARLY MAY. Tree pollens that cause allergies are transported by wind and are usually from deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves each year). Flowering trees rarely cause allergy. Conifers (pines, firs, etc.) usually do not cause pollen allergy although junipers and cedars are an exception to this rule and do cause allergic problems. Major pollen producing trees include Ash, Alder, Birch, Oak, Box elder, Maple, Cottonwood, Juniper, Sycamore, Mulberry, Elm, Sweet gum, Walnut. Other species may cause problems under special circumstances. The peak of the tree pollen season is in mid April.


2. GRASS POLLENS-MID MAY THROUGH MID JULY. This is the most severe pollen season in Oregon. Nearly all grasses in Oregon cross react and if you are allergic to grass you will react to all Oregon grasses. Bermuda grass is a distinct allergy but it is found only in Southern states and not in Oregon. Mowing lawns and exposure to hay will cause symptoms even outside of the pollen season. Small amounts of grass pollen are present as early as mid April and as late as August.
The peak grass pollen season is from Memorial Day through the 4th of July, the very highest pollen counts occurring in early June when the first hay crop is cut.


3. WEED POLLENS-AUGUST THROUGH OCTOBER. A few weeds pollinate as early as June. Pollen counts in the Rogue Valley are fairly low during this pollen season but are much higher east of the Cascades.


Control of pollen allergies requires:


*Efforts to minimize pollen exposure.

*Appropriate use of medications.

*For some patients, allergy shots(Immunotherapy (Allergy Shots) For Airborne Allergens) to lessen one's sensitivity to pollens.

Pollen counts are so high in the Rogue Valley that medications and allergy shots can cope with part but not all of the allergic reaction caused by pollen exposure. It is therefore extremely important for allergic individuals to reduce their pollen exposure as much as possible whether or not medications and allergy shots are also being used. Usually by working with all three approaches (avoidance, medications, allergy desensitization shots) symptoms caused by pollen allergies may be controlled.


The single most important measure to reduce pollen exposure is to KEEP THE INSIDE OF YOUR HOME POLLEN FREE. We spend a great deal of time (sleeping, etc.) inside of our homes and by keeping windows and doors closed we can take advantage of this time to reduce our pollen exposure. For most people this necessitates AIR CONDITIONING. Central air conditioning is best but a room air conditioner in the bedroom is almost as beneficial. Try to keep the bedroom or home closed to the outside for the entire pollen season. Just sleeping in a room that is never open to the outside will reduce overall pollen exposure by 30-40%.


AVOID HIGH EXPOSURES to pollens such as mowing, weed eating, working with hay, walking under pollinating trees in the tree season, etc. Allergic reactions consist of an immediate reaction and a delayed-prolonged or late phase reaction. High exposures can result in a late phase reaction that causes increased problems for days to weeks even in the absence of further exposure. If you do have high exposure to pollen, change clothes and shower as soon as possible. Rinsing your nose with saline sprays such as Ocean or Salinex can help remove pollens from nasal membranes. Washing your face with a washcloth can help remove pollens from around the eyes. Glasses or even protective goggles worn during mowing or other high exposure help reduce pollen contact with the eyes. Pollen masks may be helpful during mowing and weed eating. Broad brimmed hats help reduce pollens from drifting into the eyes and nose.


When you are IN YOUR CAR keep the windows up and use air-conditioning in your pollen seasons. If your car has a control to recirculate inside air use this feature.

CHILDREN should be taught the concepts of pollen allergies, emphasizing pollens are microscopic particles that cause symptoms when they come in contact with their nose or eyes. They need to know the invisible pollen grains can stick to their hand, hair, clothes, pets, etc. and rubbing their nose and eyes will push pollens directly into those areas. Washing hands and faces before rubbing will prevent much of the problem. This is somewhat analogous to the concept of germs which they understand well.


Finally, try to time VACATIONS with the pollen seasons. Leaving the area is one of the best ways of pollen avoidance. If your worst allergy is to grass pollen a vacation to a relatively pollen free area in mid June can work wonders. Even a day or weekend in the mountains or at the coast may be beneficial.


Remember complete avoidance of pollens is impossible, especially in the Rogue Valley where so many of our activities center on the outdoors in the pollen seasons. Some of the above measures will achieve significant reduction in pollen exposure and still allow you to participate in most of the outdoor activities you enjoy or must do. Reducing exposure to pollens will not, by itself, alleviate all of your allergic symptoms, but coupled with an appropriate regimen of medications and (if necessary) allergy shots, it should control the symptoms to a great degree. The more you reduce your overall pollen exposure, the less your medications and allergy shots will have to cope with.