What Exactly Is Pollen?
Pollen is the powder, consisting of plant microspores, that is produced by the male part of plants, called the stamen. The pollen carries the plant’s male reproductive cells. It commonly travels by wind, insects, or birds, from the stamen to the female part of a plant, called the pistil, allowing the plant to produce seeds.
Some plants produce very lightweight pollen which is easily dispersed by the wind. The pollen from these plants (trees, grasses, and weeds) is the most common causes of pollen allergies. Trees pollinate in the late winter and spring, and grasses pollinate in the late spring and summer. Ragweed and other weeds tend to pollinate in the late summer and in the fall. Did you know that ragweed causes 75 percent of all pollen allergies?
Effect of Pollen on Your Body
When the plants release their pollen, millions of pollen spores become airborne. It covers every outdoor surface and clings to your clothes, skin, and hair. When pollen is inhaled, your body forms mucus around the particles and transports them down your throat, and later to be swallowed up or coughed out.
Many allergy-prone people react with sneezing, nasal congestion, and irritated eyes and throat. These reactions are due to your body’s histamine production, which dilates small blood vessels in the nose and makes the nasal passages swell and feel congested.
Seasonal allergy symptoms can become chronic and even turn into asthma. Symptoms of sneezing and irritated eyes and throat can become a serious respiratory disease with coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. It can cause bronchial passages to constrict, produce too much mucus, and irritate the bronchial tubes leading to infection. Immediate medical attention is needed when the above “hay fever” symptoms include difficulty breathing or a fever results.
How Can You Protect Yourself Against Pollen Exposure?
Avoiding pollen ingestion completely is difficult during the pollen season. Staying indoors with the windows and doors closed, especially on windy days can help you minimize your exposure. In the warmer months, staying indoors and keeping comfortable means running your air conditioner. You can make sure the pollen levels inside your home stay low by following these recommendations:
1. Change your air filters frequently. Most manufacturers of basic 1-3 inch filters recommend replacing your air filters every 30 to 60 days. If you are prone to light to moderate allergies, you could benefit from a stronger air filter or change those more frequently, perhaps every 20 to 45 days. Clean air filters mean cleaner air inside your home.
2. Use an air filter designed to filter pollen allergens. Air filters are available in a range of filtering strength. However, the primary purpose of an air filter is to protect your HVAC system, not improve your air quality. A basic low-cost air filter filters out the largest particulate and dust, but some other air filters are high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) air filters. They have a tighter mesh and can filter out not only dust, but pet dander, some bacteria, mold, and pollen. Be aware, however, that some HVAC systems cannot endure the additional burden those filters place on them, and they will cause the system to operate as inefficiently as a dirty filter. Before you install a higher strength filter, make sure it is appropriate for system.
3. Have the duct work in your home cleaned. Pollen, mold, and other allergens can accumulate in your duct work. Having it professionally cleaned by an HVAC contractor will reduce the amount of particulate in the air and improve the air quality inside your home.
4. Vacuum, mop, and dust the surfaces in your home more frequently during pollen seasons. Making the extra effort to clean your floors and furniture surfaces will reduce the amount of pollen floating in the air. If you are particularly sensitive to it, wear a dust mask to limit the amount of allergens you inhale. Consider purchasing a vacuum cleaner that uses a HEPA filter; this will prevent dust from piling up in your duct work.
5. Wash clothes frequently and dry them indoors. Laundering clothes immediately after coming indoors will keep the pollen levels lower.
6. Shower and shampoo frequently. Wash the pollen out of your hair and off of your skin before you go to bed.
7. Don’t forget the pets. Pollen will cling to pet hair just like it clings to every other surface. Use a damp cloth to wipe them down when they come inside.
Consult an Experienced HVAC Technician for Advice
Make your HVAC system work for you to help protect you from excessive pollen exposure. Schedule an appointment with an experienced HVAC contractor to inspect your system and provide advice on additional steps you can take to keep pollen outdoors. The technician may be able to install a HEPA dehumidifier and give you quotes for routine duct work cleaning and maintenance that can help resolve your indoor allergen issues.