Blowing in the Wind: Allergies and Pollen

By George Lohmiller
April 12, 2010
My Favorite Maple
Mary Ann Andersen

If misery loves company, then hay-fever sufferers should never have to be alone.

Thirty-five million Americans have pollen allergies that may cause itchy eyes, ears, and throats; difficulty breathing; or all of the above.

Which Plants Cause Allergies?

  • Insect-pollinated plants have bright flowers and heavy, sticky, pollen grains that tend to stay put and cause few allergies.
  • It’s the wind-pollinated plants that cause the most problems for allergy sufferers. Their small, dull, inconspicuous flowers produce clouds of tiny, light, pollen grains that are blown aloft for great distances and can easily penetrate window screens.
  • To increase the chances that at least some pollen grains will reach the appropriate female flowers, plants produce many more grains than are needed—and some end up on our hair, on our clothes, and, alas, in our eyes and nasal passages.

The Big Offenders

Pollen counts are high in the spring and fall. Trees, grasses, and weeds are responsible for most windblown pollen. The big offenders are:

  • Large shade trees such as oaks, maples, and beeches; tree pollen emerges in the spring.
  • Most lawn grasses; grass pollen emerges in the spring and continues through summer.
  • Common weeds such as lamb’s-quarter, pigweed, and ragweed, which may produce a million pollen grains on just one plant. Some weed pollen begins in the summer; ragweed, a major allergen, causes problems in late summer and fall.
  • Goldenrod, which blooms along with ragweed, is often blamed for allergies, but it is bee-pollinated and causes few problems.

There has been a huge increase in hay-fever sufferers in recent years, partly due to a growing interest in fruitless and seedless “litter-free” trees. Many of these are males that may be litter-free, but they are definitely not pollen-free. To make matters worse, fewer female trees are being planted, so less pollen is being caught. Instead, it falls to the ground, where it can be stirred up by mowers and foot traffic.

How to Limit Allergy Discomfort

For gardeners or anyone who has allergies but loves the outdoors, there are steps that can be taken to limit discomfort.

  • Plan your outdoor activities when pollen counts are lowest, such as in the late afternoon or during cool, wet weather.
  • Be especially wary during the morning, when pollen is often emitted in larger amounts.
  • Dry, windy days distribute pollen farther, whereas rain washes it from the air, lowing pollen counts (but encouraging mold, which causes some people more headaches).
  • Plant only all-female trees and shrubs.
  • Limit grassy areas by planting insect-pollinated ground covers.

By carefully choosing the right plants and gardening when pollen counts are low, you can make your yard a healthier and more enjoyable place to be, which is nothing to sneeze at.


Reader Comments

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Worst Pollen Year

I'm in Wisconsin. When I took my daughter (11) in for first-time allergy symptoms our doctor told us experts were saying it's the worst year for allergies in 20 years. She'd had all sorts of people in for allergies that had never had any symptoms or only very mild symptoms. I know mine are awful this year too, and I have only ever had very minor issues in previous years.

Is this a bad year for

Is this a bad year for allergies in central pa? I usually don't suffer in the spring but only the fall.

Some sources say the allergy

The Editors's picture

Some sources say the allergy season is worse than usual, however, we hear that every year!  What we can tell you is that central PA has a signficant pollen count so what you are feeling is real. See this map:
We empathize!

We suffer from mild to strong

We suffer from mild to strong winds on a daily
Basis and react to pollen flying around. Even my cocker
Spaniel hacks and coughs each day. I also give him a teaspoon of honey! His coughs Always exacerbates when the winds pick up.

1 teaspoon LOCAL honey each

1 teaspoon LOCAL honey each day will really help with allergies. For several years I have added a teaspoon of local honey to my husband's and my own cup of coffee or hot tea every morning. We no longer suffer from seasonal allergies. NOTE: you MUST use LOCAL honey not the stuff from the supermarket that is from far away and pasteurized to the point of having little to no nutritional value left!

Thanks for the tip. I will

Thanks for the tip. I will give it a try.

Bee Pollen - that's right. I

Bee Pollen - that's right. I had terrible trouble every year to the point of Pneumonia until I tried this. A tiny all natural pill a day and I haven't had any trouble in over 3 years! What it does is provide your body with a little bit of the hair of the dog that bit you -by giveing you a tiny bit it allows your system to build up an immunity - making you immune to further attacks - you can get it everywhere from a healthstore to walmart so there is no excuse!Go get some!Smile.