Source(s): Gary R Peiffer
About one out of five persons suffers from allergies, many of them plant related. Flowers, trees and lawn grasses in our backyards product billions of pollen grains each spring. Georgia’s pollen season is at its peak in mid- April, receding in mid-May, and resurfacing in mid-August.
Some plants pollinate by insects and animals, others are wind-dependent and shed pollen into the air currents on warm, dry days intending to land on flowers. Instead, these tiny particles are easily inhaled by people and adhere to the linings of the nose, throat, and eyes. A chemical (histamine) is then released by the body that will induce allergic symptoms in sensitized individuals producing sneezing, coughing, itching, and watery eyes.
Plants pollinated by insects and animals tend to have large, sticky pollen grains that are not airborne, posing much less problem to the allergy sufferer. Pine pollen is often accused of causing allergies, but is not a potent allergen and is too large to go deep into the respiratory tract.
Although pollens can travel many miles, the majority tend to be focused in the general vicinity of their origin. An oak tree in the yard can expose the homeowner to ten times more pollen than an oak tree a block a way.
During the height of the pollen season–from late February to June–there are often thousands of pollen grains in every cubic meter of air. Most airborne pollen is so small it is barely seen. The amount of pollen in the air varies mile to mile and hour to hour, depending on local vegetation, wind direction and velocity, and other weather conditions. Pollen counts are higher on sunny, dry days and lower on cool, cloudy days, or after a rainfall.
Coping with Allergies
When the pollen counts rise, close your windows and don’t use window fans, stay in air conditioning, change air conditioning filters often.
Pollen counts are higher in the morning, so outdoor activities – such as running or cutting grass – should be done in the late afternoon.
Keep your car clean and use the air conditioner.
If you wear contact lenses and have allergic eye symptoms, a regular pair of glasses is much better for you at this time of year.
Wear glasses or sunglasses outdoors to prevent pollen from irritating the eyes.
Wear a paper mask that covers your nose and mouth when doing yard work, (available at drug and hardware stores).
Use gloves when gardening or wash your hands often.
Shower and put on fresh clothes after spending a lot of time outdoors, wash your hair particularly if you have long hair.
Wash pets (especially dogs) regularly because pollen clings to their coats. Consult your physician if you experience ongoing symptoms such as a runny nose, stuffiness, sinus pressure and headaches along with coughing and wheezing.
Use antihistamines sparingly, always with your doctor’s advice.
Do not use over-the-counter nose sprays more than three consecutive days; you can become tolerant to the medication rendering it ineffective.
Hay fever sufferers and allergic asthmatics participating in sports on grassy areas should take medication at least an hour before play.
Many plants can be used in place of allergy producers. All plants, however, have the potential to cause allergies if the exposure is high enough. For example, a florist may become sensitized to flowers listed here as ‘sneezeless,’ after close and frequent contact with the pollen.
People with allergies and asthma have sensitive airways, which can be adversely affected by slight irritants, such as plant fragrances. Other irritants which can trigger nasal distress or asthma include dust, secondhand smoke, pollution, and perfume. Some plants known to cause problems among sensitive persons include the rose, star jasmine, citrus tree, eucalyptus tree, narcissus, rosemary, and gardenia.
One way to select “sneezeless” plants is to examine the flowers. Plants that produce the most frequent allergies are wind-pollinated. Their flowers are drab, inconspicuous, and often in clusters or tassels (called catkins). Frequently, wind-pollinated plants have separate male and female flowers, or entirely separate male and female plants.
Most colorful and showy flowers are “safe.” They are insect-pollinated and their beautiful petals serve to attract bees and other insects. Their pollens are usually heavy, sticky, and have a variety of surface structures. such as spines. The pollen grains can easily and securely attach to the insect and are not easily picked up by wind currents. These pollens seldom cause allergies.
A Word About Lawns
Bermuda grass lawns in particular produce abundant pollen, and the common seeded bermuda more than the hybrid. Bermuda grass can pollinate when the lawn is very short, as quickly as a few days after mowing.
Of the grasses, blends of perennial rye grass, blue grass, and tall fescue are recommended or other varieties of bunch grasses. They are available from seed or as sod lawns and will not flower unless allowed to grow 12″ or higher. The recommended mowing height is about 2″. Therefore, a well-maintained lawn of only bunch grass is also essentially allergy- free.
If a bermuda grass lawn is already present, someone other than the allergic person should mow and edge it as frequently and as short as possible. By keeping it watered and fed properly, flowering may be somewhat inhibited. Remove runaway bermuda grass from flower beds because it will flower prolifically.
Ragweed is the dominant allergy producer in the fall. Other weeds that are common allergy producers include grasses, nettle, dock, English plantain, tumbleweed, pigweed, lambs quarters, and other members of the Amarantheceae and Chenopodiaceae families.