If you have seasonal allergies, your body works hard to protect you from what it sees as a threat. If flowers and trees are in bloom, what has triggered the alarm is most likely a natural substance that has been around since dinosaurs walked the earth: pollen.
Allergic reactions are associated with the outdoors. Pollen season is usually considered to be in the warm months when plant pollen is blowing through the world and grass has just begun to grow again. If you have allergies, you have probably noticed that the symptoms continue even when you are indoors. Is there something you could learn about pollen and other allergy-inducing plant products that might be an advantage against this malady?
The facts about pollen
Before we begin, you have to know what you are dealing with as pollen is not easily deterred. If some grains happen to travel up your nose, there are a million more blowing in the wind. Pollen must be transported from one plant to another of the same species for fertilization to occur so that a new seed can grow. To survive the great flight, pollen particles are extremely resilient and some have even evolved wing-like structures to aid their flight.
Where does pollen come from?
Where does pollen come from, anyway? It seems to erupt out of nowhere, all of a sudden. But to get from plants and all the way to bothering your airways, pollen has to go through a long journey.
Pollen is produced by the male part of plants and functions as the fertilizing element in reproduction. Plants start flowering and dispersing pollen during spring and summer, which is why allergies spike during these seasons.
Most pollen is spread through insects. But the worst allergy offenders are plants that depend on the wind to carry pollen from one plant to another. Because of the poor aim of bursts of wind, these wind-pollinated plants need to release a huge amount of pollen into the air to ensure that a small percentage reaches its target. Much of the pollen released is carried far and wide. It is from these plants — which include pine, birch, and alder — that most of the pollen that causes allergies comes from.
How pollen affects your allergies
Pollen grains are covered by small chemical compounds called allergens. Around 30% of people respond to these so-called “pollen allergens” in a noticeable way during allergy season. When your body encounters pollen as you breathe it in, it mistakes pollen for a serious threat to your health. As a result, your body causes your muscles to contract and blood vessels to dilate in a bid to eject the intruders. These physical changes are how you end up feeling congested, sniffly, itchy and uncomfortable. For some, the allergic reaction brought on by pollen can be so strong as to be life-threatening.
How pollen can be worse indoors
While you may think you can seek refuge from pollen indoors, even when inside, pollen can easily infiltrate your home. Below, you will find why this happens and what you can do to set up an effective indoor defense to pollen to help with your allergies.
#1: Pollen is sneaking inside because of you
Pollen does not bother to ring the doorbell. Instead, it travels in stealth mode. The particles must be light enough to be carried on the winds. Even though you can see pollen when it comes by the thousands, the tiniest airborne particles you cannot behold with your naked eye.
Research has shown that without a doubt, these microscopic particles do enter your house. The experts who deal with pollen every day describe it this way: forensic pollen expert Andrew Laurence says there can be up to 10,000 pollen grains per cubic meter of air (about the size of a home refrigerator).
And how does it get inside? Here are some ways pollen is able to break in:
- Your clothing. As you go about your day outside, your clothing catches pollen from plants and the air. When you come back in, tons of pollen follows you hidden within the seams and tucks of your clothes.
- Windows. If your windows are opened, even if it is a window looking into a porch or garage, that window could be letting in pollen.
- Pets. Your furry friends are the perfect environment for pollen to gather, and it does not help that they enjoy rolling and running around pollen-laden plants.
- Your hair. When you lay your head on your pillow at night, your hair may have some lingering pollen grains that may come onto sleeping surfaces.
- The vacuum. If you are emptying your vacuum indoors, you can be sure that some pollen is escaping back into your home environment.
If you need more evidence, just ask the forensics experts who solve crimes from analyzing pollen. Because any object that is exposed to the environment collects pollen, a detective can look at clothing to tell where it has been. In fact, even if you wash your clothes several times, the pollen may remain if it is embedded in the fabric. Mysteries have been solved because of this!
Of course, you cannot really help the fact that you and your family will transport pollen inside on your body and clothing as you walk in the door. This is common, especially for an active family, though some preventive strategies could be taken to wipe down pets and change clothes after being outdoors.
The most important takeaway is that you are introducing exposure to pollen in the place where you spend the most time—your home.
#2: Pollen levels could be higher indoors
This is unexpected: During allergy season, pollen levels inside your home can be greater than outdoor levels. One study compared pollen concentrations inside a room versus outdoors. Researchers actually found pollen levels to be 2-5 times higher inside than outside!
And not only that, the study showed that even when outdoor pollen concentrations decreased by 74%, indoor concentrations increased by 67%. As pollen is tracked inside, it becomes trapped in an enclosed space as compared to the huge expanse of the outside.
If pollen levels keep increasing inside your home, then you are still exposed to the very allergen you thought you were avoiding.
When it comes to airborne allergens, pollen grains tend to be larger and will quickly fall and settle on surfaces once they have been brought indoors. This will prevent them from being inhaled until they are disturbed — as with dusting or through movement — and resuspended into the air. Other varieties of pollen are small enough remain suspended in the home’s air in for hours after they have entered the indoor environment.
#3: Pollen invades and refuses to leave—even months after allergy season.
Research has found that pollen allergens linger inside your home, sometimes for months later after allergy season is officially over. A large study over two years in Germany found that in dust samples collected from homes, grass pollen allergens contained in settled dust were found in 91% of the homes. What was surprising was that in this study, authors found similar pollen concentrations of pollen in 89% of houses not during pollination season. This is critical for seasonal allergy sufferers to think about: if pollen lingers for months later, what does that mean for symptoms?
If your indoor air is harboring pollen for a while—even months later—you are prolonging your exposure and ultimately extending your allergy season.
How to keep pollen outdoors and reduce its build-up in your home
All is not lost. Though your indoor air may be making your allergies worse, you can try several things to reduce pollen levels in your home. Here are some effective ways you can grapple with pollen inside the home:
- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends keeping your windows closed and using an air conditioning unit instead if it becomes too warm indoors.
- Change your clothing after returning home and leave your shoes at the door. Consider doing your laundry every day after you get home during allergy season.
- Clean pets before they enter with a damp rag to catch pollen particles.
- Remove as much dust as you can by vacuuming and cleaning surfaces (being careful not to disturb the dust too much).
- Empty your vacuum canister outdoors as dust particles and pollen can easily be released into the air when you empty them indoors.
- Taking showers before bed can keep pollen from collecting on sleeping surfaces such as bedsheets and pillows.
- Stay on top of your laundry, including linens, to prevent pollen build up.
A complete preventive approach
You may have tried these preventive measures and have not seen a difference in your seasonal allergy symptoms, often because they are not enough on their own. In these cases, allergists often recommend an air purifier to their patients as part of a preventive approach.
The Molekule air purifier can help significantly with reducing the levels of airborne pollen and allergens because of its unique technology. The technology destroys organic particles like pollen and mold that cause seasonal allergy symptoms.
The most important approach when it comes to pollen and seasonal allergies is a preventive one, and an air purifier like Molekule can help.