An african american man sneezing outside, into a tissue.

How Pollen Season Affects Your Lungs

Ah, spring is in the air! And, unfortunately, so are pollens and other allergens.

As flowers, weeds, grass, trees and other plants bloom, they release pollen into the air. This typically happens in the spring, summer, and fall. The exact dates of pollen allergy seasons differ, depending on where you live. It also depends on what types of pollens you are allergic to, as different plants bloom at different times of the year.

The Effects of Pollen on Your Lungs

Pollen grains are too large to fit into your lungs. When pollen grains land in your nose, however, they release a cocktail of smaller particles that are tiny enough to inhale deeply into your lungs. These smaller particles are coated with allergy-stimulating proteins. As they travel down your airway to your lungs, the particles meet with the IgE antibodies that detect the allergy-stimulating proteins.

Normally, your immune system produces antibodies to protect you from dangerous bacteria, viruses or other toxins. When these antibodies detect a foreign invader, they launch an immune response to kill the toxin by telling your body to release chemicals. An immune response in your respiratory tract usually causes inflammation, which leads to nasal congestion, sinus pressure, a runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, a scratchy throat, and a cough.

But if you have an allergy to pollens, your body mistakes harmless pollen for a serious toxin. This means your body launches an immune reaction whenever your IgE antibodies detect the proteins in the pollen particles. Just as if your immune system were defending your body from a dangerous virus or bacteria, you experience symptoms in your upper respiratory tract.

Inhaling pollen particles deep into your lungs can set off the immune response there, causing irritation and swelling in lung tissue. The tissue in your airways is different from the tissue in your nose; smooth muscle lines the bronchial tubes that carry air into your lungs. Some of the chemicals released by an immune response in your lungs cause the smooth muscle cells to contract. If you have asthma, the muscle contractions cause air to whistle through the constricted pipes, which leads to wheezing.

You may not need treatment for mild pollen allergies; over-the-counter medications may help. If you have severe allergies, or have asthma and are wheezing, you should consult with your doctor or allergist. Medications and treatments can help reduce the symptoms of allergies to help you breathe better. Set up an appointment with Virtual Imaging today to learn more about lung health.