Pollen and Your Health

What to know

  • Pollen is seeds from plants, trees, and grasses.
  • Pollen can cause health problems or worsen current ones.
  • Climate change increases pollen, but you can protect yourself.

What is it

Pollen is the grains or tiny seeds of flowering plants, trees, and grasses. These seeds can be carried on the wind and can cause many symptoms, or none at all, if exposed to them.

A thin light green plant, known as Ragweed
Ragweed, a common pollen polluter, produces a billion grains per season, causing fall allergies.

Health impact

If you have hay fever, also known as "allergic rhinitis," breathing in pollen can cause:

  • sneezing
  • congestion
  • runny nose

Pollen exposure can also result in "allergic conjunctivitis," causing:

  • red eyes
  • watery eyes
  • itchy eyes

Pollen exposure can also cause asthma attacks if you have asthma and pollen is an asthma trigger.

Prevention of allergies

If you are allergic to pollen, or if you have asthma you can take steps to protect yourself:

  • Check pollen forecasts, and limit outdoor time during high levels.
  • Take your allergy and/or asthma medicine as prescribed by your health care provider.
  • Do not touch your eyes outside and wash your hands before touching your eyes indoors.
  • Shower after being outside to remove pollen from your skin and hair.
  • Change your clothes after being outdoors.
  • Keep windows closed during pollen season.
  • Use high-efficiency filters in your home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Make sure your HVAC system can use high-efficiency filters and that they don’t violate the system’s warranty.

Effects of climate change

Climate change can cause shifts in rainfall patterns, more frost-free days, warmer air temperatures, and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These changes can affect:

  • The start, end, and length of pollen season
  • How much pollen plants create and how much is in the air
  • Human health

These changes in pollen due to climate change could have major impacts on human health. They increase your exposure to pollen and risk of having allergy and/or asthma symptoms.