Monthly Archives: March 2011

Do you know your grasses?

Grasses are often a major culprit to those with allergies. Thankfully, however, not all grasses are problematic. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, there are over 1,200 types of grass, but there are only a few species that create allergies in people, including Bermuda grass, Johnson grass, Kentucky bluegrass, Orchard grass, Sweet Vernal grass, and Timothy grass. Below are brief descriptions and pictures of each of these allergy-causing grasses. Sometimes its easier to deal with things once you get a “face” to go with the name!

Bermuda grass is one of the more common grasses used on lawns because of its drought-resistant nature and reasonable cost, according to It is a low, creeping grass. It creeps along the ground and will root wherever a node touches the ground forming a thick mat. It reproduces both by pollen, nodes, and by spreading its roots underground. This grass grows and pollinates in the spring and summer. Its called Bermuda grass because it was introduced to the United States from the Island of Bermuda.

Bermuda grass











Johnson grass is one of the top ten noxious weeds in the world due to its negative ecological impact, according to the U.S. National Forest Service. It is present in all 50 states and is invasive in 24. It is an upright perennial grass that can grow up to six to eight feet high or more and has a fibrous root system that it reproduces through as well. It flowers from May until frost.

Johnson grass











Kentucky bluegrass is the most common planting grass for lawns and parks in the U.S. Although the species is spread over all of the cool, humid parts of the U.S., it is not native to North America. Early colonists brought seed of Kentucky bluegrass to this country in mixtures with other grasses. Kentucky bluegrass grows 18 to 24 inches tall. It spreads by rhizomes and tillers and forms a dense sod. It flowers in the late spring and early summer and is one of the most significant grasses in terms of allergies.

Kentucky bluegrass











Orchard grass is a grass native to Eurasia, but has become popular in the United States. The grass is a perennial that grows between 3 and 4 feet high when left uncut. It thrives in moist soils with partial shade. The grass is commonly planted under orchard trees as a ground cover. Orchard grass allergies vary by region and season; usually allergy sufferers are most affected in May and June.

Orchard grass











Sweet Vernal grass is a short-lived perennial grass found wild in acidic grassland in Eurasia. It is also grown as a lawn grass and a houseplant, due to its sweet scent, and can be found on unimproved pastures and meadows. It has been used in the past as a medicinal plant and in the manufacturing of brandy, however is no longer considered safe. This grass grows in tufts up to 3 to 4 feet tall and flowers from April until June.

Sweet Vernal grass














Timothy grass is one of the most prevalent types of grasses in the world. Timothy grass is originally from Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It is used for animals, and is often dried and turned into a source of hay. I remember feeding Timothy hay to my pony as a child. This grass is prevalent in virtually every part of the United States, but grows most effectively in cool, humid climates. Generally, Timothy grass flowers and pollinates in the summer. The severity of the allergy depends on the season and the area in which you live.

Timothy grass









(All photos from Google Images)


Spring is in the Air!

Ah, yes! Springtime! More sunlight, warmer temperatures, leaves budding, flowers blooming, & new beginnings! Springtime is a magical time of year. And yet, as Chinese philosophy says, everything has both ying and yang aspects. Ying and yang are dualities, such as positive and negative.

Spring has a huge array of positives, but for allergy sufferers, its can have more than its share of negatives, too. As nice as those warm spring breezes feel, they carry pollen and spores from all those pretty blooming things! So, as an allergy sufferer, what can you do to get through this fabulous yet difficult time of year?

First, know what you’re allergic too. This is the first line of defense in managing allergies. A couple of options are available for testing: ImmuneTech has an easy to use, home allergy test kit or you can go see an allergist for a test. The bottom line is: don’t guess; get tested.

Once you know your allergy triggers, you can keep an eye on allergen levels in the air. Many websites are available that track these levels for you. One option is, they even have a mobile app! The site will tell you the concentration of pollen grains in the air & which trees/grasses are the predominate pollens in your area. You’ll be able to plan your day better knowing what is out in the air; is it a day for allergy medicine and precautions or not.

Speaking of allergy medicines… there are lots of allergy medications out there, prescriptions as well as over-the-counter medicines available at your local grocery story or pharmacy. Medications are often a necessary part of an allergy management plan – antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays, eye drops, and throat lozenges – all of these have a place when used appropriately for allergy management. However, knowing what’s best to use, how often, etc. can be confusing! Some over the counter medications may cause drowsiness or could pose problems if you have certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, etc… Rather than try to figure it out on your own, its best to consult an allergist for a personalized allergy management plan. Your allergist may even suggest immunotherapy or allergy shots as a solution for you.

Beyond medications, many other solutions can help manage allergies as well. Keep your windows closed, even on a nice spring day. If you spend any length of time outside, take a shower as soon as you come back in to wash off all the allergens that may be on your skin. Wash the clothes you were wearing immediately, rather than allowing them to sit in your hamper or on your floor where allergens are free to float around your home. Wash your bedding and pajamas often as well. Another important solution is an air filter. An air filter can dramatically reduce the number of airborne allergens in your home. Along those lines, a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) vacuum is also a great option. Check out this link for tips on the best way to vacuum your home to eliminate allergens. And finally, a solution that I use on a daily basis is rinsing your nose with a saline nasal rinse, spray, or neti-pot. Rinsing your nose with saline washes away any allergens that are trapped in the hair-like cilia that line the nasal and sinus cavities, allowing yourself to breathe cleaner!

So, arm yourself with one or all of these solutions and welcome spring in!

Havoc causing trees!

Often we think of trees as our friends, living things, a natural companion to humans. Trees put oxygen back into the air. They are beautiful to see and hear the wind rustle through the branches. They provide shade and windbreaks. Trees are a small part of nature that is easy to enjoy. However, for a cedar allergy sufferer, not all trees are your friends!

The University of Tulsa says cedar is “one of the most potent allergens in the United States.” Mountain cedar is a type of juniper tree found mainly in South and Central Texas that pollinates in the winter, from December through March.

Other parts of the United States have related species of cedar, juniper, and cypress trees that cause springtime allergies. For example, Western red cedar and Eastern red cedar pollinate in March and April.

Because pollen is so similar within this family of trees, a person who is allergic to mountain cedar pollen will also be allergic to pollen from juniper and cypress trees. Twenty-five percent of the people in areas with mountain cedar suffer from its pollen 25% of the year.

During pollination season, mountain cedar produce cones that simultaneously burst open upon optimal temperature and humidity conditions, releasing huge “clouds” of pollen.

Photo by Katrina C.M.

Tiny, light, buoyant cedar pollen granules can infiltrate the air and travel for long distances. These qualities also make them easy for humans to inhale and then trigger allergy and asthma heath effects.

Cedar allergy symptoms include itchy, watery eyes, runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, postnasal drip, facial pain, headache, fatigue, sore throat, and ear congestion. These symptoms may be severe enough to cause loss of sleep and poor concentration, which then affects work, school, or other important activities.

Wondering what to do about cedar allergies? First, get tested to determine if the symptoms really are caused by cedar allergy. Then, symptoms can then be managed with antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal corticosteroid drugs. Allergy injections, or immunotherapy, also successfully treat allergies to cedar pollen by reducing patients’ sensitivity levels over the long-term. Consult with an allergist for a personalized treatment solution.

For references and additional information, check out the following pages:

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