Pollens: sources and health impacts
The exposure of the population to pollens is a public health issue. Each year, with the arrival of spring, millions of people around the world are subject to the consequences of a pollen allergy of varying degrees of disability. Where do pollens come from and what are the impacts on people’s health?
Reading time: 5 minutes
Pollen: definition and sources
Impact of pollen on the health of populations
Recommendations and solutions against pollen emissions
Pollens: definition and sources
Pollen is a very fine powder produced by trees, flowers, grasses and weeds to fertilize other plants of the same species. The pollen grain is the male reproductive element of plants.
The two main modes of pollen transport:
🐝 Pollens carried by animals
Pollen carried by insects during foraging is called entomophilous flower pollination or entomogamy.
These pollens are large and generally not very allergenic. They mainly concern flowers that are usually showy and fragrant.
💨 Wind-borne pollens
When pollen is carried by the wind, it is called anemophilous flower pollination. These pollens easily enter the respiratory tract because of their smaller size and can trigger severe allergic reactions.
Nb: A pollen grain has a microscopic size.
What are the health impacts of pollens?
Pollen is one of the most common causes of allergies.
There are two types of allergies:
- Nasal allergy to pollen, also called pollinosis;
- The specific allergy to grass pollen, called hay fever.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, not all pollens are allergenic. The pollens that usually cause allergies are those of anemophilous plants (wind-dispersed pollen). These plants produce large quantities of light pollen, which can be carried over great distances and are easily inhaled, bringing them into contact with the sensitive nasal passages.
The immune system normally defends the body against harmful invaders, such as viruses and bacteria, in order to prevent illness. In people with pollen allergies, the immune system mistakenly identifies harmless pollen as a dangerous intruder and begins to produce a disproportionate immune response to fight the pollen.
Regarding the health impacts of pollen, the response results in 3 main allergic symptoms:
Symptoms of allergic rhinitis (or hay fever): runny nose, stuffy nose, sneezing…
Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis: red eyes, watery eyes, swollen eyes…
Symptoms of allergic asthma include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness and chest pain or pressure.
One of the most obvious characteristics of pollen allergy is its seasonality: people only experience these symptoms when the pollen seeds they are allergic to are in the air. Each plant has a pollination period (pollen calendar available here.) which is more or less the same from year to year. Some people are allergic to pollen all year round, while others are only allergic at certain times of the year.
It is unlikely that the allergy will go away once it has developed. However, it is possible to achieve desensitization for pollen allergy, which is treated with medication and anti-allergic injections.
The pollen calendar is not always the same from one year to the next: indeed, pollen dispersion depends strongly on weather conditions! Nevertheless, it is possible to define approximate periods of dispersion of different pollens.
Recommendations and solutions against pollens
As with other allergies, the best treatment is to avoid the allergen. However, pollen is very difficult to avoid. In order to minimize exposure to pollen, some recommendations can be followed:
👉Check the weather and stay indoors on dry, windy days.
👉 Remove and wash all clothing that has been worn outdoors and avoid drying clothes outdoors.
👉Shower and wash hair before going to sleep to remove pollen from hair and skin to keep it off your bedding.
👉Close windows (house, car…)
Visualization of pollen levels in Europe can be done via our API. We provide the levels of 6 pollens: grass, alder, birch, olive, ragweed and mugwort.
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