Living With Allergies
Let’s talk about the most common seasonal allergy trigger: pollen.
When you have a pollen allergy, it’s easy to feel like you can’t leave the house without kicking all of your itching, sniffling, and sneezing symptoms into high gear. It’s as if this nearly invisible allergen is lurking right outside your door, just waiting to make you miserable.
In some ways, that’s true. But, monitoring and understanding pollen counts can help you be proactive about managing your symptoms.
First things first, what the heck is a pollen count? Well, to understand that, let’s start by talking about what exactly this allergen is.
During different seasons (spring, summer, and fall), various plants, grasses, trees, and weeds release tiny grains of pollen. This powdery substance floats through the air and fertilizes other plants of the same species. It’s a totally natural and even important process, but it also triggers allergy symptoms for a lot of people.
Now that you understand that, a pollen count is exactly what it sounds like: It’s an estimated measure of the number of grains in the air. The higher the level, the more likely that people with a pollen allergy will experience an allergic reaction.
How does anybody possibly count these little grains? The American Council on Science and Health says that silicone, grease-coated clear rods are placed outside to test the air at normal intervals. Those rods are examined for pollen grains and the numbers are crunched to indicate a level that makes sense to the average person: low, moderate, or high.
As the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology explains, there’s also something called a pollen forecast. That’s different from a count. Here’s the gist:
Unfortunately, you don’t have much control over the pollen count outside (that’d be nice, wouldn’t it?). But, knowing what you’re in for can help you take the right steps to keep your allergy symptoms at bay.
So, let’s say that there’s a high pollen count in your area. What now? Are you destined for a life spent inside?
Not quite. While staying indoors is a surefire way to manage your allergy, it’s not always a realistic option. A few more reasonable steps you can take include:
Keep the right medicines handy: Antihistamines and nasal sprays can help you prevent or reduce the severity of your allergy symptoms. Just remember that both treatment types can take 2-4 weeks to reach full efficacy.
Shut your windows: We all love a little fresh air. But, on days with high pollen counts, you’re better off keeping your windows closed.
Mind your timing: Pollen counts tend to be at their worst on dry and windy days and in the early morning. So, try to avoid those conditions and times when you want to head outdoors. Additionally, when you come back inside, it can be helpful to change your clothes and take a quick shower.
There’s probably another big question you have: How can you know when pollen counts are high? Many weather apps or local news stations will cover the allergy levels in your area, and pollen.com has a helpful interactive national allergy map.
But, there are also a number of different pollen tracking apps that can keep you in the loop. Here are a few of our favorites (in no particular order).
Available for: iOS Price: Free, $2.99 for the pro version The app features a real-time pollen map for the entire United States, as well as allergy and weather forecasts for your area. You can use the daily diary to track your allergy symptoms and get a better grasp on when your allergies are at their peak.
Available for: iOS, Android Price: Free Remember when we mentioned pollen.com and their interactive allergy map? They also have an easy-to-use app that has counts and forecasts. You can check multiple locations and even get detailed information about the specific type of pollen that’s prevalent in your area (whether it’s from ragweed, trees, or something else).
Available for: iOS, Android Price: Free This WebMD allergy app is packed full with resources about not just pollen or seasonal allergies, but all types of allergies (including drug allergies, food allergies, and more). Like many of the other apps, it has allergy and weather forecasts. But, you can also set up customized alerts to receive notifications when certain allergy counts are high.
Available for: iOS, Android Price: Free, $4.99 per month or $29.99 per year for the pro version This app from the Weather Channel combines your weather forecasts with real-time information and predictions about allergies. You can see the allergy risk in your area along with a detailed tracker and breakdown of which kinds of pollen are prevalent in your area now and over the next three days.
Available for: iOS, Android Price: Free Klarify uses your location to give you pollen, weather, and air quality forecasts. As you use the app, you can regularly log your daily symptoms and how you feel. Klarify will give you forecasts for all pollen types, and use a simple smiley face to tell you how those levels are likely to make you feel based on the history you recorded.
Available for: All web browsers Price: Free Sometimes you don't want all the bells and whistles—you just want a straight answer on if the pollen counts are high right now and an easy way to get relief if they are. Picnic's online pollen tracker shows you at a glance which allergy triggers are at a high, moderate, or low level in your area and then helps you find the right treatment for you.
When it comes to dealing with your allergies, it’s important to know what to expect when you walk through your front door—and using an app to monitor what’s happening in your area is a great way to equip yourself with the knowledge you need.
Being aware of the times that pesky pollen might trigger your allergy symptoms means you can take action to manage your seasonal allergies and get some much-needed relief.
Article Reviewed By
Amina H. Abdeldaim, MD MPH, Picnic Medical Director