Planting an Ugly Face on Allergies

allergic rhinitisAs allergy season continues for much of the nation, a largely unknown adage rings true: the uglier a flower or weed, the more allergy-inducing its pollen tends to be.

Ragweed, mugwort and pigweed have more than just their unattractive names and unappealing appearance in common, they’re also some of the worst offenders to allergy sufferers.

Of those allergic to pollen-producing plants, 75 percent are allergic to ragweed which can produce up to 1 billion pollen grains per plant throughout a pollen season.

mugwort0003_midThe relationship between allergy-causing pollens and their flowers is something like a beauty pageant,” says Robert Valet, M.D., an allergist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Asthma, Sinus and Allergy Program. “A general rule of thumb is that flowers that smell or look pretty attract insect pollenators, so they are not generally important allergens, because their pollen is not airborne. However, those that are very ugly or plain are meant to disperse pollen in the wind, which is the route most important for allergy.”

Allergy season is divided into spring, summer and fall and for most of the country runs from March to October.

Early spring is typically tree season, with common tree allergens including oak, maple, walnut, pecan and hickory. While many people are concerned about fragrant and flowering trees like the Bradford pear and crabapple they rely on insects instead of the wind to carry their pollen and do not typically trigger allergies.

Amaranthus_retroflexus_020207_1In late spring and early summer, grasses start to pick up their pollen production.  And in late summer and fall, weeds such as ragweed, lamb’s quarter, pigweed, English plantain and mugwort make their presence known.

The pollen count may change from day to day, due to an event like rain – which decreases the pollen in the air temporarily – but once allergy season is underway, anything between a moderate and very high pollen count will aggravate allergy sufferers,” Valet said.

For people with known pollen allergies, simple solutions can include taking an antihistamine before going outside and showering once back inside, and choosing the air conditioner over an open window for cooling homes. If these measures do not relieve the symptoms, Valent suggests going to see an allergist for testing and treatment.

In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to stay away from ugly plants.

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