Sneezing through the season

   Written by on March 24, 2016 at 10:58 am

logo - walk in gardenIt’s really a stretch some weeks to make a connection with the world around me and a topic for this column. I watch, I listen, I try to be impressed. This week, it ain’t happening. And on top of that, in spite of all the cautions I’ve taken, I crossed paths with a feverish, inconsiderate acquaintance who shared their cold with me. Where’s my blankie? I’m going back to bed.

I know this is really a cold, not an allergy thing,‘cause I’m only mildly allergic to pollen, but there are lots of folks suffering right now from the springtime plight of newly released pollens. Each spring,summer, and fall tiny particles are released from trees,weeds, and grasses. These particles, known as pollen, hitch rides on currents of air. Although their mission is to fertilize parts of other plants, sometimes they never reach their target ‘cause human beings get (sneeze) in the way and are repaid for their effort with a type of seasonal allergic reaction called hay fever or rose fever, depending on the season.

Plants produce microscopic round or oval pollen grains in order to reproduce. In some species, the plant uses the pollen from its own flowers to fertilize itself. The types of pollen that most commonly cause allergic reactions are produced by the plain-looking plants, like trees, grasses, and weeds (cough) that do not have showy flowers. These plants manufacture small, light, dry pollen granules that are custom-made for wind transport. Ragweed pollen has been found 400 miles out at sea and 2 miles high in the air. How in the world can you escape that stuff? Most allergenic pollen comes from plants that produce it in huge quantities. A single ragweed plant can generate a million grains of pollen per day!

The chemical makeup of pollen is the basic factor that determines whether it is likely to cause hay fever. For example, pine tree pollen is produced in large amounts by a common tree, which would make it a good candidate for causing allergy. The chemical composition of pine pollen, however, appears to make it less allergenic than other types. Because pine pollen is heavy, it tends to fall straight down and does not scatter. So, think before you stand under that pine tree and breathe.

The list of plants around here that are the most prolific producers of allergenic pollen is headed by ragweed, followed by thistle and plantain. Weeds and trees and grasses do more than their share. Watch out for timothy grass,Kentucky bluegrass, Johnson grass, Bermuda grass, orchard grass, and sweet vernal grass. Oak, elms, ash, hickory, pecan, box elder, and mountain cedars also produce highly allergenic pollen.

It is common (shiver) to hear people say that they are allergic to colorful or scented flowers like roses. In fact, only florists, gardeners, and others who have prolonged, close contact with flowers are likely to become sensitized to pollen from these plants. Most people have little contact with the large, heavy, waxy pollen grains of many flowering plants because this type of pollen is not carried by wind, but by insects such as butterflies and bees.  A pollen count, which is familiar to many people from local weather reports, is a measure of how much pollen is in the air. This count represents the concentration of all the pollen in the air in a certain area at a specific time. It is expressed in grains of pollen per square meter of air collected over 24 hours. Pollen counts tend to be highest early in the morning on warm, dry breezy days and lowest during chilly,wet periods. So what does one do to avoid pollen? Seems to me (sneeze) you need to stay inside all summer, (hack) wash your hands and hair every hour, and not breathe except in your den.

Ah, the joys of spring!

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