What is Pollen? Can I see it?

By: Sheila R. Wertz, PA-C

photo of Sheila Wertz at Colorado Allergy & Asthma Centers

Sheila R. Wertz, PA-C

Many people wonder, can I see pollen? Can I see what I’m allergic to? The simple answer is yes and no! Most pollen is microscopic and not visible to the human eye. Most pollen is so small that you may not realize that you are inhaling it. This can often make it hard to know if you are having allergies or even when allergy season may start for you. Sometimes pollen that settles on surfaces can create a fine yellow-like dust residue.

People often think that allergy season only starts when they see blooming flowers but that is not true. Tree pollen often starts early in the spring before we see leaves on the trees or flowers blooming in the ground. Another myth is that just because you don’t have a particular tree, grass, or weed in your yard, that you can’t be allergic to that pollen. Pollen travels by air and some pollens travel for miles! So just because you don’t have that Ash tree in your yard doesn’t mean you can’t be exposed it to. The same goes for different types of grass, weeds and molds as well.

Allergy pollen is also different than the seeds of plants.  People often associate cottonwood tree pollen with the fluffy white cotton seeds they see in the air during the late spring.  They assume this white stuff is what is causing their sneezing and itchy eyes. This is often not the case! In fact, while the cotton may act as an irritant, it is not the pollen of the tree. Many times, while people think this is causing their allergy symptoms, the emergence of grass pollens at the same time are to blame. It may be that the grass pollens are the actual culprit! Allergy skin testing can help you determine what pollens you are actually sensitive to. After evaluation you can then look at the seasonal patterns of your allergies. It may be those June allergies are grass pollens and not trees at all! Knowing your allergies and making smart decisions regarding allergy shots or when to use allergies medications can drastically improve your quality of life!

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