• Dr Shawn M. Carney

Pollen Forecasts & The Pollen Allergy-Food Allergy Connection

Updated: May 29

Some environmental pollens can directly influence your allergic reactions to foods.


Today we are trying to help readers navigate seasonal allergies and the allergy season as well as discover how their environmental allergies can influence adverse food reactions.


Prevalence of Allergies

Over 50 million Americans suffer from indoor and outdoor allergies annually.1 Allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. with an annual cost in excess of $18 billion.1 Food allergies, however, cost consumers about $25 billion each year.2 And a child with an allergic parent has a 1 in 3 chance of developing allergies in their lifetime.


Allergies have been becoming more persistent and prevalent, in part, due to the constantly increasing length of time and volume of pollen that different plants have been producing. So what had previously been more concise periods of pollen dispersal have been becoming progressively longer, and increasingly overlapping. This has been attributed to climate change.3 The net effect is that the 'allergy season' has been becoming longer and more onerous.


Pollen Peak Schedules

There are three big peaks in pollen production throughout the year: trees in the spring, grasses over the summer, and weed pollen spikes in the autumn. In the winter, when more people are increasingly indoors, allergies to household dust tend to be worse, as there is less external ventilation and more hot air being blown through dusty vents.


Below is a compilation from the Johns Hopkins University, Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology which shows different times of year in the Mid-Atlantic region when various environmental allergy triggers are at their worst.

* image credits


Resources like this can be helpful, especially if a person knows what their specific triggers are.


However, if you are trying to find something that has a more local flavor and is regionally specific, there are some online searches by zip code. Our clinic is located in Newtown, CT and we discovered one such pollen forecast through the website for the Newtown Health District.


To access this regional online tool, when you click on 'current air quality', it brings you to a page which shows the '15 day allergy forecast'. When online, you can see it’s using data from the Weather Channel, but what a great, free resource!


This is good for an overview of different plant pollen categories, but things like grasses and ragweed, we can see from the Mid-Atlantic list above, may not even be active until much later in the year. So for something that has a more timely precision, there is also Pollen.com, which also allows a zip code search! And here you can see things that are going to be specific allergies and more relevant for your day to day or your coming week, instead of showing overall categories that might not be happening for months.


So, these tools can be helpful and spur people to take precautions or develop action plans, making sure they have treatment resources readily accessible for when the time is needed.


However, if a person is having their quality of life compromised and they are unsure of what their triggers are, they may do well to consider having bloodwork for food and/or environmental allergy testing. Providing insight into what triggers the immune system allows a person to take steps to minimize exposure to those triggers, or incorporate other treatment options. Diet, for example, in some cases, can be something that influences allergy symptoms for the worse!


Oral Allergy Syndrome is a special contact allergy in which reactions are triggered by specific amino acids in food allergens, usually fruits, as well as some proteins from different pollens. Usually in such cases, the symptoms are quite immediate. So, for example, we’ve had patients with chronic seasonal allergies and allergic responses to some foods. After sending them for bloodwork and reviewing the results together, we have been able to show that they are triggered by certain types of tree or grass pollens, ...


... and that these can correlate with eliciting an oral allergy syndrome response in certain corresponding foods! If the person is having trouble at that time of year, it may be a good idea to decrease consumption of foods associated with that tree, grass or weed pollen. This could be part of a person taking extra precautions. See below:

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In this case above, the patient came in reporting allergic responses to apple, peach, pear, hazelnut and almond. She also had longstanding seasonal allergies. We helped her discover that she was allergic to birch and oak pollens specifically, and part of alleviating her symptoms was to consume less of foods from those categories during her times of year when symptoms were at their worst.


If you would like help in trying to better understand your allergies and are seeking ways to alleviate symptoms, contact our clinic for support!


References:

  1. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. https://acaai.org/allergies/allergies-101/facts-stats/

  2. Gupta, R. et. al. The economic impact of childhood food allergy in the United States. JAMA Pediatr. 2013 Nov;167(11):1026-31.

  3. Anderegg, W. et al. Anthropogenic climate change is worsening North American pollen seasons. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Feb 16;118(7):e2013284118.

  4. *image credits: Johns Hopkins University, Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology

  5. **image credits: Ausucua, M., et al. Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS). General and stomatological aspects. Oral Medicine and Pathology. 2009. Nov.


The content and any recommendations in this article are for informational purposes only. They are not intended to replace the advice of the reader's own licensed healthcare professional or physician and are not intended to be taken as direct diagnostic or treatment directives. Any treatments described in this article may have known and unknown side effects and/or health hazards. Each reader is solely responsible for his or her own healthcare choices and decisions. The author advises the reader to discuss these ideas with a licensed naturopathic physician.