Springtime Allergies

Pediatric Alliance — Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Division


Sergei Belenky, MD and Deborah Gentile, MD

Sergei Belenky, MD and Deborah Gentile, MD



What Is a Springtime Allergy?


Pollen is one of the most common triggers of springtime allergies. Many people know pollen allergy as “hay fever.” Experts usually refer to pollen allergy as “seasonal allergic rhinitis.”

Each spring and summer, plants release tiny pollen grains to fertilize other plants of the same species. Most of the pollens that cause springtime allergic reactions come from trees and grasses. These plants make small, light, and dry pollen grains that travel by the wind.

Grasses are the most common cause of allergy. Certain species of trees, including birch, cedar, and oak, also produce highly allergenic pollen. In our geographic area, tree pollen season may begin as early as March and extend as late as early June. Grass pollen season may begin as early as May and extend through early July. Factors such as outdoor temperature and precipitation can affect the start, duration, and end of each pollen season.

Plants fertilized by insects, like roses and some flowering trees like cherry and pear trees, usually do not cause allergic rhinitis.


What Is a Pollen Count?


A pollen count is how much pollen is in the air. This is often reported during pollen season on local weather forecasts. Sometimes the main types of pollen are also reported. Dr. Deborah Gentile and Dr. Sergei Belenky of the Division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology here at Pediatric Alliance will begin reporting daily pollen counts in April. According to Dr. Gentile, who directs the local National Allergy Bureau pollen site, “Pollen counts are useful to help patients determine the cause of their symptoms and can also be used by patients to adjust their medications to prevent symptoms.”


What Are the Symptoms of Pollen Allergy?


People with pollen allergies only have symptoms when the pollens they are allergic to are in the air. Symptoms include:

• Runny nose and mucus production

• Sneezing

• Itchy nose, eyes, ears and mouth

• Stuffy nose (nasal congestion)

• Red and watery eyes

• Swelling around the eyes

How Do Doctors Diagnose Pollen Allergy?




Doctors use two tests to diagnose a pollen allergy:


Skin Prick Test (SPT): 
In prick/scratch testing, a nurse or doctor places a small drop of the possible allergen on your skin. Then the nurse will lightly prick or scratch the spot with a needle through the drop. If you are allergic to the substance, you will develop redness, swelling and itching at the test site within 20 minutes. You may also see a wheal. A wheal is a raised, round area that looks like a hive. Usually, the larger the wheal, the more likely you are to be allergic to the allergen.

A positive SPT to a particular pollen allergen does not necessarily mean that a person has an allergy. Health care providers must compare the skin test results with the time and place of a person’s symptoms to see if they match.

Specific IgE Blood Test: 
Blood tests are helpful when people have a skin condition or are taking medicines that interfere with skin testing. They may also be used in children who may not tolerate skin testing. Your doctor will take a blood sample and send it to a laboratory. The lab adds the allergen to your blood sample. Then they measure the amount of antibodies your blood produces to attack the allergens. This test is called Specific IgE (sIgE) Blood Testing. (This was previously and commonly referred to as RAST or ImmunoCAP testing.) As with skin testing, a positive blood test to an allergen does not necessarily mean that an allergen caused your symptoms.


Tomorrow: Reducing allergic reactions and treating pollen allergies.


(Many thanks to Joyce Douglas, RN, MBA — Office Manager, Allergy, Asthma, and Allergy Division.)