Keep Pollen Outside Where It Belongs
The trees are budding, the flowers are blooming and grass is turning green. Wouldn’t it be nice if all that weren’t happening? Nobody wants to be a sourpuss, but if you suffer from pollen allergies, this time of year can be miserable. Medication has come a long way toward alleviating the suffering of seasonal allergies, but a few practical steps can help you breathe more easily.
The Worst Offenders
The most common plant allergen is ragweed. There are seventeen species in North America and they are responsible for up to half of pollen allergies. The genus name is Ambrosia, which means ‘food of the gods’, but you might think of a few other names for this pesky pollen factory - a single plant can produce up to a billion grains of pollen in a season. Ragweed blooms from August until November and is a hardy, hard-to-eradicate plant. The pollen levels tend to peak between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM and is usually worst in the morning, so stay inside during these hours if possible. The local weather report should have a pollen index that tells you what’s floating around to make you sneeze, or not, each day.
The other pollenizers (that’s the plant that produces the pollen) that cause big allergy trouble are trees and grasses. The most common allergens are juniper, oak, elm, pecan and pine trees as well as a variety of lawn grasses like Bermuda, Johnson, rye and some tall grasses like Pampas. There’s not much to do about tree allergies except identify your particular triggers and avoid them when their pollen counts are highest. With some varieties of grass, it helps to keep your grass mowed short, just make sure you wear a NIOSH-rated 95 filter mask when you’re mowing or working outside.
Protect Your Perimeter
Eliminating some of the allergy-causing plants from your own yard might give you a little relief. If you’re a big fan of the juniper tree, commonly referred to as cedar trees, check with your local nursery and buy a female juniper tree, which does not produce pollen. You can distinguish between the two by looking for the berries (which are actually the cones of the tree). The male trees have tiny cones that will turn yellow in spring as they are producing pollen, then fall off. The female trees have cones that look like green or blue berries and stay on the tree even after the pollination period in spring. Other sneeze-free trees that thrive in the south are crepe myrtle, magnolia, dogwood and eucalyptus.
For a beautiful and low-pollen display of flowers, look for monoecious plants. This means that the plant has male and female flowers and doesn’t need to broadcast its pollen. Stay away from dioecious plants as these are single-sex plants like juniper and they produce lots of pollen designed to spread far and wide. Your local nursery should be able to give you guidance on choosing the right plants. Texas Certified Nursery Professional and Calloway’s Nursery manager Kimberly Evans suggests hydrangea and periwinkle as two of the best choices for ornamental plants in north Texas. For gardeners who want to research the best allergy-friendly choices, she recommends Pollen.com as a helpful resource for allergies, plants, forecasts and much more.
A Pollen-Free House
Since you can’t get rid of all the vegetation for three miles in every direction, keeping the pollen from coming indoors may be more practical and helpful. While there’s probably no such thing as a completely pollen-free house, there are steps you can take to significantly reduce the amount of pollen that gets into your home.
An air-conditioned space with a good filter is the first step toward breathing easily at home. Make sure you change your air filters regularly, especially during pollen season. HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters have a very fine mesh that can trap small particles of substances that cause allergies, like dust and pollen. Stay away from ozone filters as these can cause respiratory irritation. Keep your windows closed and make sure your doors seal tightly. Pollen moves best on warm and windy days, so take special care when it’s breezy. Rain can tamp down pollen levels for a little while, but there may be a surge in airborne pollen counts as soon as it starts to dry.
Everything that comes into your house could be carrying pollen. The kids might play under a blossoming tree at recess or your family dog might have just rolled in a bed of flowers guaranteed to crank up your allergies. Have the family take off their shoes at the door and remove outerwear. If that’s impractical, make sure each door has a doormat that can be rinsed with the hose and find an allergy-free volunteer to give sweaters and jackets a good shake outside and far away from the door. Brush pets and wipe their paws after each walk, preferably outside, and wash them frequently. Dust and vacuum as often as you can tolerate.
Each year, every car around will turn yellow-green for a couple of weeks. If you have to go out during this time, keep wipes in the car to wipe the pollen from your hands as soon as you get into the car and wash your hands as soon as you get into the house after touching the car door. Park your car in the garage if you have one. If pollen levels are really high, change your clothes as soon as you get home and wash the contaminated clothes immediately.
Fighting allergies is an around-the-clock battle during allergy season. It can be tiring, but it’s possible to create a safe haven in your own home. Make sure you’re getting all the medical help you can from your doctor or allergist and practice these tips as much as possible. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has more information about allergies and how to prevent and treat them. Hopefully you will get to a point where you can enjoy the blooming of spring and the glorious change of summer into fall through clear eyes. Try to remember that the end of the season will be here soon and you’ll get some relief. If worse comes to worst, take a vacation. Cold climates and coastal places can be an allergy sufferer's dream!