Why Are We Allergic to Pollen?

Art & Research: Zoe Zou

Further Reading Literature: Zoe Zou


As the temperature rises and as spring comes around the corner, you may begin to notice your nose running or your eyes watering. This may not be anything unusual to you, or perhaps you even experience it annually around this time, but what exactly is happening in your body? What is this thing called allergies and more specifically why are we allergic to pollen? 

What is Pollen?

Pollen grains are tiny “seeds” that can be dispersed from flowering trees, plants, grass, and weed. They act as an airborne allergen that affects the brains of most people (CDC - Allergens and Pollen).

This small granular substance is what allows plants to fertilize and reproduce. It is spread through insects, birds and even the wind (Better Health).

Cause of Allergic Reaction

It is important to note that people react to different types of pollen and may experience symptoms during certain seasons or year-round. When pollen enters the body (by either the lungs, eyes, etc.) the immune system mistakenly identifies them as a threat (CDC - Pollen and Your Health). Consequently, the immune system will produce antibodies that detect the allergen and cause inflammatory reactions and the release of a chemical called histamine. This is what causes hay fever symptoms. (Better Health)


For people with Hay Fever (or allergic rhinitis) breathing in pollen causes sneezing, congestion and a runny nose. Symptoms may also result in allergic conjunctivitis which is inflammation of the eyes that causes red, watery, or itchy eyes (CDC - Allergens and Pollen).

Some may even experience itchy throat or wheezing and pollen allergies may also aggravate asthma symptoms (ACAAI).

Allergy induced asthma symptoms include: chest tightness or pain, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, wheezing, and/or coughing. In addition, people with hay fever are more likely to develop sinus infections and have interrupted sleep that leads to extreme tiredness (Better Health).

Reaction Reduction

To reduce hay fever symptoms, you can get antihistamine medication that can be prescribed or over the counter at a pharmacy. For nasal congestion, you can get decongestants that can be found as oral medication or as a nasal spray. Nasal corticosteroid sprays, that are prescribed or over the counter, may also reduce symptoms in the nose although there are side effects so use with caution (Better Health).


A tip is to begin medication a few weeks before your worst allergy times and check the forecast to plan ahead. Although, you should keep in mind that there are different types of pollen so even if the news says there will be a high pollen count doesn't necessarily mean you will have symptoms. Therefore, it is best to test which specific pollen brings on your symptoms and this also helps to find the best medications (ACAAI). 

It would also be helpful to avoid touching your eyes while you’re outside and wash your hands when you go back inside. Showering after being outside also helps to remove pollen from your body and certainly try to keep windows closed during pollen season (CDC - Pollen and Your Health).


Overall, everyone’s immune system is different and there are many different types of pollen that you can be allergic to but it is always helpful to know methods of prevention or even just ways to reduce symptoms. And just because you have allergies doesn’t mean you can’t go outside but there are certainly precautions you can take to ensure you enjoy an allergy safe outing! 

Want to learn more about this topic?

Check out the additional resources below!