How to deal with the pesky pollen season

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Over the last three years, at around this time, I start to sneeze, rub my eyes and (according to my very patient partner) become slightly snuffly in bed.

I have come to the conclusion that I am one of the 20 per cent of people in this region of the world who has a pollen allergy, and now I just need to stick to my own advice and my spring should be symptom free.

Pollen is obviously an essential part of our world – it is shed by flowering plants and trees, and transported to other plants to allow fertilisation.

Plants that have brightly coloured flowers with big petals usually attract bees and insects to do their pollinating for them, but plants that have smaller, sometimes invisible flowers, such as many trees and grasses, use the wind to do this job.

Wind-borne pollen tends to be the culprit for most "hayfever" sufferers, and it can travel vast distances if the weather conditions are right.

If you think you have a pollen allergy, one of the key things to do to manage your symptoms is to figure out what you might be allergic to.

Different plants and trees flower at different times of year, in different parts of the country so arm yourself with local area knowledge about when the trees and grasses are flowering, and more likely to cause you problems.

Allergy.org.au has a great pollen calendar that charts all our major plants and trees, and when they are flowering.

Its definitely worth having a look, and then thinking about how you can reduce your exposure to a particular species.

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If you can't figure it out, your GP can organise special skin prick testing that checks a range of pollens and other allergens.

In terms of reducing the impact of pollens, you can ask your doctor to prescribe medication that will dampen down your symptoms – these include antihistamine tablets that can be taken as needed, and relieve symptoms for up to 24 hours, and steroid nose sprays that work if used on a regular basis to prevent the allergy process flaring up.

However, neither of these is a perfect solution, and people often really dislike the nose sprays, so trying to find out the cause of your allergy, and avoid exposure to it is a nicer option if you can.

Ways you can minimise exposure:

- Planting low-pollen vegetation in your garden if possible – often natives are less allergenic than other plants.

- Avoiding areas that have high numbers of particular trees or plants – for example, not going for walks in a pine forest at this time of year, if pine pollen is a trigger for you; in general, beaches tend to be less of a problem, so hanging out by the coast rather than in the bush is a good plan for summer.

- Staying indoors more on days when the pollen count is particularly high, or when there is a lot of wind. Look up daily pollen counts for major cities and towns. These will tell you not only the expected levels of pollen, but what plants and trees are involved.

- Avoid exposing your linen and clothes to pollens when you can. This sounds like crazy advice when the sun is out, but if a plant you are particularly allergic to is flowering, I would recommend drying all your clothes and bedsheets indoors, rather than on the line where they will likely get coated in pollen.

- Try not to open your windows on days when the pollen count is high – this applies to the car as well as your home. If you use air con in the car, set it to "re-circulated" air, rather than the mode that brings in air from outside.

- Avoid being outdoors when pollen levels are highest – this is typically early in the morning, so saving your outdoor activities until after lunch can help.

- If you are outside, create a "barrier" so that pollen can't get into your eyes, nose and mouth easily – this can include wearing spectacles or sunglasses, and putting a small amount of Vaseline or pawpaw ointment around the edge of your nostrils.

- Mow your lawns regularly to prevent the grass from flowering. Ideally, get someone else to do this for you as it is likely to make your symptoms worse: I try to bribe my kids to do it, but if that isn't an option for you, you could share jobs with a neighbour…. suggest providing baking in lieu of lawn mowing, or washing their car for them.

- Stuff