Pollens and Allergy

There is no doubt that at certain times of the year, pollens cause many people a distressing array of symptoms. These include hay fever, mucous, red eyes that itch intolerably, overheating and great tiredness. At times, particularly at night, difficulty in breathing may also be experienced.

As far back as 1867, Dr Charles Blackley of Manchester, noted that when pollen was placed on the skin it caused itching and swelling to some people. When pollen is inhaled, it makes contact with the mucous membrane, lining the nose, and absorbs water from the mucous. A substance, not yet identified, dissolves from the pollen and enters the bloodstream through the mucous membrane. It then becomes an antigen which the white cells and antibodies of the immune system would normally destroy.

In the case of an allergic person, the immune system does not destroy the pollen antigen. The presence of the antigen causes the mast cells, which are laden with histamine and other chemicals, to break up and release a flood of histamine to the affected areas. The excessive histamine causes both localised symptoms in the initial areas of contact and general symptoms throughout the body. The former being hay fever, runny nose, etc. and the latter, the accompanying tiredness and lethargy.

Pollens become a problem mainly during spring and also in autumn owing to some plants, chiefly wild grasses, flowering twice a year. As pollens are carried on the wind, it makes little difference whether a sufferer be a country or a city dweller, the allergic reaction will be the same. Fungal spores from plant parasites on grain crops can also trigger allergic reactions in pollen-sensitive people.

Obviously, avoiding exposure to pollens is extremely difficult, apart from staying indoors with the windows closed during the bad times of the year. It is possible, however, for many people to find relief through a programme of desensitization from a medical allergist. This is given, following a series of skin tests, to ascertain the various types of pollens causing the allergy.

Medication, such as antihistamine tablets and decongestant sprays may be used to seek occasional, temporary relief. These preparations do not cure but simply palliate symptoms to make life a little easier for the sufferer. Beware of prolonged use! In the United States, doctors now suspect that thousands of people have become addicted to nasal sprays. If used too often to constrict blood vessels that have become dilated by histamine, natural constriction ceases to happen efficiently and the nose can become permanently blocked.

While it may not be possible to eliminate symptoms completely, a clean diet and avoidance of allergenic foods and chemicals will assist the immune system to cope better with pollen allergies.
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