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What is Pollen?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

From a health perspective, pollen is both vital and annoying. It is an important part of plant reproduction and can result in things like many of the foods people enjoy eating. Yet certain forms of it also create allergic reaction, usually called hayfever, which can be difficult to experience and sometimes worsens with age.

These male cells of plants are analogous to things like animal sperm in their purpose because they frequently have to travel in order to create fertilization or pollination with other parts of plants. This traveling takes place in numerous ways. Wind can blow these cells, insects pick them up and deposit them elsewhere, they may ride in animal fur, and even humans carry them in hair and clothes.

Many people make assumptions about pollen that are not always accurate. Since some cells are larger than others they are highly visible, and seeing this, people with allergies may assume these are the worst allergens. Typically, that is not the case. Smaller, less easy to visualize cells are more likely to be inhaled easily and tend to be the greatest offenders in causing conditions like hayfever.

Another assumption is that these cells only come from one source, such as flowers, grasses, or trees. Actually, they come from many sources and people with hayfever might be allergic to a lot more than grass-based pollen, though ragweed cells are considered very likely to induce allergy. Yet many people are also significantly affected by these cells as produced by certain trees or flowers.

When people are allergic to pollen, what this really means is that contact, often through inhalation of pollen cells, causes the body to produce a histamine response. Exposure to these reproductive cells creates inflammation in the mucus membranes and can result in numerous symptoms, which include runny or itchy nose, post-nasal drip, itchy eyes, occasionally asthma, coughing, and others. There tends to be no fever in this immune response and people may not be allergic to hay.

Hay fever may have peak seasons, when the most pollen is present in the air. It may be hard to avoid, though people can take medications that help reduce histamine response. It is also helpful to minimize outdoor activities when high cell counts are reported, and to make sure to wash body and hair thoroughly after time spent outside. Since most forms of these irritating cells are microscopic, they’re not likely to be seen or felt on the body. An allergy sufferer may still know they’re present, anyway, by exhibiting allergic response.

Many regions publish useful counts of certain pollens to help people determine those times when allergic response is most likely. Yet many people don’t know specifically what plants create problems for them. Allergy testing can help to determine this, and can also rule in or out the possibility that allergies to other substances, like dust mites, might be resulting in hayfever symptoms too.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By SarahGen — On Aug 07, 2014

Some people hate pollen because of the symptoms pollen causes. I have trouble when plants start blooming and release pollen too. But I don't hate them because I know that they are vital for plants to continue their existence.

I just try to avoid outdoor activities when I know that the plants are in bloom. I've also noticed that there is usually more pollen in the morning. So I get into my car and use the air conditioner until I get to the office. I avoid being outdoors during those hours.

By stoneMason — On Aug 06, 2014

@ZipLine-- I'm not sure why a pollen allergy would develop suddenly. It must be due to your immune system. The immune system can start reacting to things it wasn't reacting to before. It may suddenly start producing histamine in response to pollen. Eating a healthy diet and taking vitamins may help. But there is probably not much that can be done in terms of prevention.

Use decongestant medication and antihistamines to fight the symptoms. Keep in mind that antihistamines can make you drowsy so you might want to avoid them during the day. Unfortunately, that's usually the time when pollen is around the most.

By ZipLine — On Aug 06, 2014

Why would someone with no previous history of pollen allergy suddenly develop this allergy? I did not have pollen allergy my entire life. Suddenly, last year, I developed seasonal allergy to pollen. I started experiencing congestion, sneezing, and runny eyes and nose. I don't understand why this has developed all of the sudden.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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