Does Air Pollution Trigger Hay Fever?

Does Air Pollution Trigger Hay Fever?

It’s that time of the year: flowers blooming in all colors, birds humming, days getting longer and warmer. Spring is an exciting time for many of us, but for some, it can also be nightmarish because of unexplained headaches, runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing 15 times in a row. This is when hayfever, the enemy that ruins spring for many of us, enters the chat.

Every year, 40-60 million Americans and 150 million Europeans suffer from hay fever, formally known as allergic rhinitis.

As we explored in one of our previous posts, air pollution has countless negative effects on our bodies. So, you won’t find it surprising that air pollution can also fuel hayfever. In this post, we are delving into the details of the alliance between air pollution and hayfever so you know how to protect yourself and reclaim the true value of springtime.

Does Air Pollution Really Worsen Hay Fever?

Several studies demonstrated a strong collaboration between airborne pollutants and hay fever.

One such study by the University of Aberdeen [1] looked at the young population in Cardiff over a period of 15 years and found a 59% increase in the prevalence of hay fever. Interestingly, the grass pollen levels, which is considered the number one reason for hay fever, had not changed during this time. On the other hand, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide levels had risen significantly.

The American Laryngological, Rhinological, and Otological Society conducted a similar study in the United States, investigating the number of hay fever cases among 313,982 patients between 1997 and 2006. They found that even a small rise in the levels of NOx, PM, and SO2 (by only 0.002 parts per million) caused a 2-4% rise in the number of cases [2].

Another study looked at the relation between hay fever and traffic-related air pollutants in Taiwan. In surveys done amongst 330,000 non-smoking students, chronic exposure to O3, NOx, PM, and SO2 for a year raised the hay fever prevalence from 28.6% to 42.4 in males and from 19.5% to 34% in females [3].

One study from South Africa explored the relationship between truck traffic and hay fever cases in children living near the roads commonly used by truck drivers. As expected, the hay fever symptoms peaked during the times of the day when truck-traffic was at its highest [4].

So, the short answer is: Yes, air pollution does worsen hay fever, and this has been backed by science.

How Does Air Pollution Affect Hay Fever?

There are several theories to explain the mechanism of air pollution exacerbating hay fever.

The most common one is called super-pollen, which is a mixture of air pollutants and pollen. When the pollen particles come into contact with pollutants emitted from vehicles, they immediately bind to these pollutants, especially NOx and PM. As a result, they burst open and become stickier. The “evolved” pollens are not only stickier but also release more allergens. They can also remain afloat in the air much longer and travel much further than their original sites.

While pollens disperse into the higher levels of the atmosphere in time, the heavier super-pollens remain at lower levels and affect us for much longer. Besides, the increased stickiness makes super-pollen cling to our noses and respiratory tract much more strongly, so it becomes harder to expel them.

Air pollutants also have a more direct effect on our respiratory system. As we mentioned in a previous article, pollutants like NOx and SO2 can rupture the protective membrane in our respiratory tract. It eventually makes us more vulnerable to pollen allergens.

How to Tell If You Have Hay Fever

Whether it is grass pollen or a super-pollen entering our body, the brain perceives it as a disease-causing threat. In turn, the brain releases chemicals to fight these particles as if it was fighting a disease. So, it is not the pollen causing the symptom but your immune system thinking it is fighting a disease. That’s why hay fever has a lot in common with cold and flu.

These symptoms are as follows:

  • Continuous sneezing and coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Itchy and watery eyes
  • Irritation in the nose and the throat
  • Headache
  • Loss of smell
  • Fatigue (since you cannot breathe properly at night due to your nose being clogged up.)
  • If you have asthma, your body might show other symptoms like shortness of breath and tightness in the chest.

The “Do”s and “Don’t”s of Hay Fever

While catching hay fever in springtime is almost inevitable for many of us, it is still possible to alleviate the symptoms with medication and homemade remedies. Here are some tips that will prepare you.

  • Medication can come in the forms of pills, nasal sprays, and eye drops. These include nasal corticosteroids, antihistamines, and decongestants, all of which are used to treat symptoms like congestion, sneezing, and runny nose. Speak to your GP for the best advice on medication for hay fever and possible side effects.

Besides medication, preventative measures are also crucial.

  • Whether you are driving or at home, avoid leaving your windows open for too long during the pollen season.
  • If possible, avoid drying your clothes outside, as pollen can stick to them during that time.
  • MayoClinic recommends that you avoid going out in the morning since the pollen count is generally higher early in the day. 
  • Windy days can also be problematic since pollen can get carried far away by the wind.
  • Always wear sunglasses to prevent your eyes from exposure to pollen.
  • Remember to wash your hands after petting animals.
  • Vacuum the rooms, especially the carpets, weekly to get rid of dust mites that capture pollen. Make sure that your vacuum is equipped with a HEPA filter to capture pollen efficiently.
  • The ventilation in your house or the car should also include an allergy-grade HEPA filter. Don’t forget to change the filters regularly.

How Can NosyX Help With Hay Fever?

While the precautions above can protect you from allergens and irritants in your space, you will probably need to spend a lot of time outside, whether driving to work or hiking with friends. There will be many occasions where you are left vulnerable to pollens and their combinations with air pollutants. So, you need constant protection that is not only portable but also wearable.

Luckily, NosyX is here to save the spring.

NosyX’s nose piece and mouth cover contain HEPA filters, which we also recommended for the vacuum and air purifier at home. This filtering technology is designed to capture particles of all sizes with near-perfect precision, and pollen is no exception.

Besides, NosyX contains activated carbon filters and silver coating to protect your respiratory system from air pollutants and germs, which would otherwise weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to hay fever.

If you are curious about the filtering technology of NosyX, read more about it here.

Click here to find out about life-threatening conditions caused by air pollution.

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[1] Seaton, A., A. Soutar, and J. Mullins. "The increase in hay fever: pollen, particulate matter and SO2 in ambient air." QJM: An International Journal of Medicine 89.4 (1996): 279-284.

[2] Bhattacharyya, Neil. “Air quality influences the prevalence of hay fever and sinusitis.” The Laryngoscope vol. 119,3 (2009): 429-33. doi:10.1002/lary.20097

[3] Lee, Y. L., et al. "Climate, traffic-related air pollutants and allergic rhinitis prevalence in middle-school children in Taiwan." European Respiratory Journal 21.6 (2003): 964-970.

[4] Shirinde, Joyce, Janine Wichmann, and Kuku Voyi. "Allergic rhinitis, rhinoconjunctivitis and hayfever symptoms among children are associated with frequency of truck traffic near residences: a cross-sectional study." Environmental Health 14.1 (2015): 1-11.


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