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Pollen Allergies

What is a pollen allergy?

Pollen is one of the most common causes of allergies in the United States.

Pollen is a very fine powder produced by trees, flowers, grasses, and weeds to fertilize other plants of the same species. Many people have an adverse immune response when they breathe in pollen.

The immune system normally defends the body against harmful invaders — such as viruses and bacteria — to ward off illnesses.

In people with pollen allergies, the immune system mistakenly identifies the harmless pollen as a dangerous intruder. It begins to produce chemicals to fight against the pollen.

Woman blowing nose due to pollen

This is known as an allergic reaction, and the specific type of pollen that causes it is known as an allergen. The reaction leads to numerous irritating symptoms, such as:

  • sneezing
  • stuffy nose
  • watery eyes

Some people have pollen allergies year-round, while others only have them during certain times of the year. For example, people who are sensitive to birch pollen usually have increased symptoms during the spring when birch trees are in bloom.

Similarly, those with ragweed allergies are most affected during the late spring and early fall.

About 8 percent of adults in the United States experience hay fever, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI).

About the same percentage of American children were diagnosed with hay fever in 2014, according to the National Health Interview Survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The allergy is unlikely to go away once it has developed. However, symptoms can be treated with medications and allergy shots.

Making certain lifestyle changes can also help relieve the symptoms associated with pollen allergies.

A pollen allergy may also be referred to as hay fever or allergic rhinitis.

What are the different types of pollen allergies?

There are hundreds of plant species that release pollen into the air and trigger allergic reactions.

Here are some of the more common culprits:

Birch pollen allergy

Birch pollen is one of the most common airborne allergens during the spring. As the trees bloom, they release tiny grains of pollen that are scattered by the wind.

A single birch tree can produce up to 5 million pollen grains, with many traveling distances of up to 100 yards from the parent tree.

Oak pollen allergy

Like birch trees, oak trees send pollen into the air during the spring.

While oak pollen is considered to be mildly allergenic compared to the pollen of other trees, it stays in the air for longer periods of time. This can cause severe allergic reactions in some people with pollen allergies.

Grass pollen allergy

Grass is the primary trigger of pollen allergies during the summer months.

It causes some of the most severe and difficult-to-treat symptoms. However, the AAAAI reports that allergy shots and allergy tablets can be highly effective in relieving symptoms of grass pollen allergies.

Ragweed pollen allergy

Ragweed plants are the main culprits of allergies among weed pollens. They’re the most active between the late spring and fall months.

Depending on the location, however, ragweed may begin spreading its pollen as early as the last week of July and continue into the middle of October. Its wind-driven pollen can travel hundreds of miles and survive through a mild winter.

What are the symptoms of a pollen allergy?

Pollen allergy symptoms most often include:

  • nasal congestion
  • sinus pressure, which may cause facial pain
  • runny nose
  • itchy, watery eyes
  • scratchy throat
  • cough
  • swollen, bluish-colored skin beneath the eyes
  • decreased sense of taste or smell
  • increased asthmatic reactions

How is a pollen allergy diagnosed?

Your doctor can usually diagnose a pollen allergy. However, they may refer you to an allergist for allergy testing to confirm the diagnosis.

An allergist is someone who specializes in diagnosing and treating allergies. To schedule an appointment visit us online today!

The allergist will first ask you about your medical history and your symptoms, including when they started and how long they’ve persisted.

Make sure to tell them if the symptoms are always present or get better or worse at certain times of the year.

The allergist will then perform a skin prick test to determine the specific allergen that’s causing your symptoms.

During the procedure, the allergist will prick different areas of the skin and insert a small amount of various types of allergens.

If you’re allergic to any of the substances, you’ll develop redness, swelling, and itchiness at the site within 15 to 20 minutes. You might also see a raised, round area that looks like hives.

How is a pollen allergy treated?

As with other allergies, the best treatment is to avoid the allergen. However, pollen is very difficult to avoid.

You may be able to minimize your exposure to pollen by:

  • staying indoors on dry, windy days
  • having others take care of any gardening or yard work during peak seasons
  • wearing a dust mask when pollen counts are high (check the internet or the weather section of the local newspaper)
  • closing doors and windows when pollen counts are high


If you still experience symptoms despite taking these preventive measures, there are several over-the-counter (OTC) medications that may help:

  • antihistamines, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or oxymetazoline (Afrin nasal spray)
  • medications that combine an antihistamine and a decongestant, such as Actifed (triprolidine and pseudoephedrine) and Claritin-D (loratadine and pseudoephedrine

Allergy shots

Allergy shots may be recommended if medications aren’t enough to ease symptoms.

Allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy that involves a series of injections of the allergen. The amount of allergen in the shot gradually increases over time.

The shots modify your immune system’s response to the allergen, helping to reduce the severity of your allergic reactions. You may experience complete relief within one to three years after starting allergy shots.

Home remedies

A number of home remedies may also help relieve pollen allergy symptoms.

These include:

  • using a squeeze bottle or neti pot to flush pollen from the nose
  • trying herbs and extracts, such as PA-free butterbur or spirulina
  • removing and washing any clothing that has been worn outside
  • drying clothes in a dryer rather than outside on a clothing line
  • using air conditioning in cars and homes
  • investing in a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter or dehumidifier
  • vacuuming regularly with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter

When to call the doctor

You should tell your doctor if your symptoms become more severe or if your medications are causing unwanted side effects.

Also, be sure to consult your doctor before trying any new supplements or herbs because some can interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications.

The takeaway

Pollen allergies can interrupt your everyday activities with sneezing, stuffy nose, and watery eyes. Lifestyle changes and medications can help reduce your symptoms.

Avoiding the trees, flowers, grasses, and weeds that trigger your allergies is a good first step.

You can do this by staying indoors when pollen levels are high, especially on windy days, or by wearing a dust mask to avoid breathing in the pollen.

Medications, both prescription and OTC, can also help reduce symptoms.

Your doctor may also recommend immunology (allergy shots).

Continue reading “Pollen Allergies”

Fall Allergy Season is here

Fall Allergy Season is here

As most allergy sufferers will tell you, allergy symptoms can always be bothersome, turning any time of year into sneezing season. A runny nose, itchy eyes and scratchy throat can arise as the days get shorter and the leaves begin to change.

The fall can be especially difficult for people who are sensitive to mold and ragweed pollen. But these seasonal elements are not the only triggers that can make symptoms worse this time of year. There are also a few lesser-known triggers. Here are four things you might not know about fall allergies, courtesy of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology:

Hay Fever

Hay fever, a term from a bygone era, actually has nothing to do with hay; Instead, it s a general term used to describe the symptoms of late summer allergies. Ragweed is a common cause of hay fever, which is also known as allergic rhinitis. The plant usually begins to pollinate in mid-August and may continue to be a problem until a hard freeze, depending on where you live. See an allergist for prescription medications to control symptoms or to see if allergy shots may be your best option.

Lingering Warm Weather

While most people enjoy Indian summer, unseasonably warm temperatures can make rhinitis symptoms last longer. Mold spores can also be released when humidity is high, or the weather is dry and windy. Be sure to begin taking medications before your symptoms start. Track your allergy symptoms and bring ot your visit with you primary care clinican and/or allergist to find relief.

Pesky Leaves

Some folks might find it difficult to keep up with raking leaves throughout the autumn. But for allergy sufferers, raking presents its own problem. It can stir agitating pollen and mold into the air, causing allergy and asthma symptoms. Those with allergies should wear an NIOSH rated N95mask when raking leaves, mowing the lawn and gardening.

School Allergens

It s not only seasonal pollen and mold that triggers allergies this time of year. Kids are often exposed to classroom irritants and allergy triggers. These can include chalk dust and classroom pets. Students with food allergies may also be exposed to allergens in the lunch room. Kids with exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) may experience attacks during recess or gym class. Help your child understand what can trigger their allergies and asthma, and how they can avoid symptoms. Be sure to notify teachers and the school nurse of any emergency medications, such as quick relief inhalers and epinephrine.

No matter the season, it s important for those who think they may be suffering from allergies or asthma to see a board-certified allergist. A primary care clinician or allergist can help you develop a treatment plan, which can include both medication and avoidance techniques.

Having your allergies properly identified and treated will help you and your family enjoy the season. To schedule an appointment with a Pentucket Medical primary care clinician/ pediatrician and/or allergist call 888-227-3762 or visit for a complete listing of clinicians.

Spring Allergies or a Cold?

Just when we think we’ve escaped cold and flu season unscathed, we’re about to be walloped by spring allergies. Understandably, sniffles can be tough to decipher: In a recent survey by Allegra-D, 65% of people said they don’t always know whether they’ve got one or the other. Here’s how to tell, so you can find relief before you finish that box of tissues.

Should those allergies require additional support schedule an appointment with one of our allergists .


Is there a cure for food allergies?

By: John Hein, MD

Allergy and Immunology

Is there a cure for food allergies?

Well, it depends on the type of food someone is allergic to.

Peanut Allergy Treatment

Recently there has been information in the press about advances in peanut allergy treatment. Researchers are currently studying the effects of giving multiple small doses of peanut in attempt to cure the allergy. Although this therapy may work in some patients, the rate of treatment-related side effects is quite high. Even in patients who respond positively to this treatment, it is unclear if their desensitized state will be maintained for long periods of time. Due to the high rate of side effects and unclear duration of improvement, desensitization therapy for peanut allergy is not currently the standard of care. Allergists continue to recommend avoidance of peanut consumption if a patient has a peanut allergy.

On the other hand, allergies to fruits and vegetables have a more promising prognosis. Oral itching after eating foods such as raw apples, cherries, and carrots is a common complaint in New England. Cooked forms of these foods are often tolerated. These symptoms are termed the “Oral Allergy Syndrome”. Patients who have a severe allergy to pollen often complain of itching or swelling of the mouth after eating raw fruits and vegetables. This is caused be structural similarities between pollen and raw fruits and vegetables. Cooking these foods changes their structure, making them less allergic. Because pollen allergy is the cause of this syndrome, reducing pollen sensitivity often improves food-related symptoms. Many patients who undergo 2 or more years of pollen desensitization or “allergy shots” report an improvement in their fruit and vegetable allergy.

Food Allergy Treatment at Pentucket Medical

Although a definitive cure for all food allergies is not yet available, there is hope for people who suffer from raw fruit and vegetable allergy. Please contact my office for more information:

John Hein, MD

Haverhill: 978-469-5445

Newburyport: 978-499-7200

Pentucket Medical Partners Asthma Center: Helping Patients with Asthma Breathe a Little Easier

Pentucket Medical Associates announces its new alliance with the Partners Asthma Center, a multi-institutional, allergy and pulmonary medicine collaborative that specializes in the diagnosis, treatment and education of asthma.

Continue reading “Pentucket Medical Partners Asthma Center: Helping Patients with Asthma Breathe a Little Easier”

How I became an allergist – By John Hein, MD

Hein | allergist |Newburyport

When I was in the first grade, I was having difficulty in school. I told my mother that I could not hear the teacher. A test indicated that my hearing was significantly impaired.

Further investigation revealed that my adenoids were enlarged and were affecting my hearing. As a result, my adenoids were surgically removed. During the operation it was discovered that the allergic cells in my body were extremely elevated.

My surgeon recommended that I be evaluated by an allergist.

Allergy testing showed that I was allergic to many molds and other environmental allergens.

After frequent doctor visits and treatments in childhood, my health and school performance greatly improved. And this experience opened my eyes to the career I have chosen for my life: I was inspired to pursue a career as an allergist.

I am extremely happy to be in the profession that I am today, a field of medicine in which a physician can make life-changing differences in lives of our patients. My life goal is to help others like myself, because I know from my own experience how allergies can miserably impair someone’s life.

Working as an allergist puts you in a field of work where you can actually cure people. You can really watch them go from being very sick to becoming very healthy, and it’s really gratifying as a physician to see this.

I would like to do everything possible to improve the health and quality of life of my patients.

John Hein, MD, AAAAI, is a member of Pentucket Medical’s Allergy Department. Dr. Hein practices in Newburyport and Haverhill. For an appointment, please call 888-227 3762.

How to Treat Nosebleeds

Nosebleeds can be caused by many things such as physical trauma, allergies, or underlying diseases that affect the blood. While nosebleeds are usually minor, it is still important to properly treat them otherwise they can cause major issues.

1. Do NOT Tilt Your Head Back

A big misconception and initial reaction when you have a nosebleed is to tilt your head back. This will only cause you to swallow blood, which can have worse effects than the nosebleed itself. You should sit down in a chair and actually lean your head slightly forward.

2. Apply Pressure

Next you need to pinch the soft part of your nose with your fingers. The pressure helps the nosebleed to slow down and prevents blood from escaping from your nose.

3. Apply Ice

Applying an ice pack against your nose and cheeks will help to constrict the blood vessels and slow down the nosebleed. It also numbs any pain you may be experiencing.

4. Take Preventative Measures

Once the nosebleed has stopped, you may want to consider putting a very small amount of ointment, such as Vaseline, in and around your nostrils since dryness and abrasion add to nosebleeds. You’ll want to prevent anything that will instigate another nosebleed such as blowing, wiping, picking or rubbing your nose.

5. Speak with your doctor

Even though nosebleeds are common for many people, it’s important to check in with a physician especially if:

The bleeding doesn’t stop after 10 minutes of treatment
A nosebleed occurs more than 4 times in a single week
Nosebleeds get more severe/painful
You are on blood-thinning medicine and are getting nosebleeds
You have any conditions that affect blood-clotting, such as liver disease

Call your physician and make an appointment if you have any questions or concerns about your nosebleeds. If you feel you need to see a doctor immediately you can be seen right away at either of our ExpressCare locations.

Spring Cleaning and Seasonal Allergies


Do you suffer from seasonal allergies?

Did you know that Spring cleaning could be just what the allergist ordered?

More than 40 million Americans suffer from allergy problems. After a long winter of being stuck inside, it’s important to clear your house of lingering dirt, dust and mold. Spring cleaning can reduce, and even remove some allergens. Here are a few tips to clean effectively:

  • When dusting, use moist cloths or special dry dusters designed to trap and lock dust from hard and soft surfaces.
  • Certain cleaning products can also contribute to airborne irritants, especially if they contain harsh chemicals, strong odors or volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Choose products that contain none of these irritants, but also beware of “green” labels, as some of these solutions may be made with natural allergenic ingredients, such as lemon, coconut or tea-tree oils.
  • Use a Certified vacuum that has a high efficiency filter with tight seams and seals to prevent particles from leaking out while you vacuum. Also, choose a style that requires minimal exposure during canister emptying or bag changes.
  • Whether you have a cat or dog, pet dander is present in most U.S. homes. If it is possible, keeps pets out of the bedroom. If not, your cleaning routine should include frequently washing linens in your bedroom, where cat or dog dander can settle.
  • Place Certified allergen-barrier bedding on your mattresses and pillows. Wash your bedding at least once a week in 130+ degree hot water to kill mites and their eggs.
  • Mold, a common allergy trigger, can grow anywhere in your home where moisture is present. Look for cleaning products that help kill and prevent mold from returning. Also, keep household humidity below 50 percent and fix leaky pipes and cracks to reduce standing puddles of moisture where mold can prosper.
  • If children live in your home, look for Certified plush toys. Dust mites, mold and pet dander can accumulate on plush toys over time. Certified toys can be placed in the freezer for 24 hours, then rinse in cold water to remove dead mites, and dry completely. Do this monthly.

In addition to reducing allergens in your home, Spring cleaning can also:

  • Provide your family with a healthier living environment.
  • Reduce stress and renew your calm by removing clutter.
  • Be a form of cardio exercise

Spring-cleaning is a great way to improve your living environment while boosting your mental moral and physical health. It’s the time of the season!

Homemade cleaning products:

White Vinegar

Did you know that white vinegar is a natural deodorizer? It absorbs odors instead of just covering them up. It can be used in the kitchen, bathroom, or on hardwood flooring.

Just mix these two ingredients in a spray bottle:

1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water

Rubbing Alcohol

Did you know that rubbing alcohol could replace windex?

Just mix these 3 ingredients in a spray bottle:

1 cup (isopropyl) alcohol
1 cup water
1 tbsp. white vinegar