The smell of cut grass or fresh flowers in the spring can be pleasant, but they can also be a harbinger of discomfort or misery. In the spring and fall, pollen can aggravate peoples’ allergies and lead to sniffling, headaches and other ailments. And it’s caused by a misunderstanding by the body.
“Pollen counts are pretty high this year,” said Brandon Musgrave, an allergy specialist at Illinois Valley Community Hospital. “I joke that I don’t have to check the pollen counts because my patients are my barometer.”
According to the National Allergy Bureau, the top plants for pollen this week were trees (mulberry, maple, box elder and pine) and all types of grasses. Weeds and mold were low or nonexistent. Pollen.com, a website from a healthcare research company, also listed birch and ash trees as some of the top allergens of the week.
The pollen is part of plants’ reproduction cycle. Ken Alleman, owner of Tonica Nurseries, said the plants are seeding themselves right now. The greater the cross pollination, the better it is for the plants.
“If they start inbreeding, they get kind of goofy,” Alleman said.
The pollen of one plant will get carried on the wind to another plant, fertilizing it. He said that’s why farmers will detassle corn in the fall, to aid the cross pollination and strengthen the crop.
Sometimes, however, the pollen ends up elsewhere, and our bodies can’t handle it.
“Allergies are your body’s immune system overreacting to something that is not dangerous. It is the arm of the immune system that kills parasites,” Musgrave said. “One hypothesis is that here in developed countries we don’t have parasites – we don’t have worms and things like that – and that part of the immune system has been idle for decades and is now reacting to tree pollen and grass pollen …
“Our immune system is…