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Allergies FAQs

Allergy UK says one in four people in the UK will have allergy symptoms during their lives, including during childhood.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about allergies:

What types of plants produce the most allergy-causing pollen?

The type of pollen that most commonly causes allergic reactions comes from plants (trees, grasses and weeds) that typically do not bear fruits or flowers. These plants produce small, light, dry pollen granules in large quantities that can be carried through the air for miles.

What does a pollen count mean?

A pollen count, or pollen forecast, is the measure of the amount of pollen in the air. Pollen counts are provided by the Met Office and are often given in weather reports.

Data is collected for different types of pollen, such as grass, birch and nettles. The count is reported as grains of pollen per square metre of air collected over 24 hours. This number represents the concentration of all the pollen in the air in a certain area at a specific time. The pollen count is translated into a corresponding level: very high, high, moderate or low.

In general a 'low' pollen count means that only people extremely sensitive to pollen will experience symptoms. A 'moderate' count means many people who are relatively sensitive to pollen will experience symptoms and a 'high' count means most people with any sensitivity to pollen will experience symptoms.

Although the pollen count is an approximate value and fluctuates, it is useful as a general guide when you are trying to determine whether or not you should stay indoors to avoid pollen contact.

The Met Office also provides a pollen calendar, which can help people allergic to specific pollens know when to be most alert.

Is it a cold or an allergy?

Symptoms of allergies and colds can be similar, but here's how to tell the difference:

Occurrence of symptoms: Both allergies and colds can cause symptoms of sneezing, congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, fatigue and headaches. However colds often cause symptoms one at a time: first sneezing, then a runny nose and then congestion. Allergies usually cause symptoms that occur all at once.

Duration of symptoms: Cold symptoms generally last around 10 days, whereas allergy symptoms continue as long as a person is exposed to the allergy-causing agent. Allergy symptoms may subside soon after elimination of allergen exposure.

Mucus discharge: Colds may cause yellowish nasal discharge, suggesting an infectious cause. Allergies generally cause clear, thin, watery mucus discharge.

Sneezing: Sneezing is a more common symptom of allergies, especially when sneezing occurs two or three times in a row.

Time of year: Colds are more common during the winter months, whereas allergies are more common in the spring through to the autumn, when plants are pollinating.

Presence of a fever: Colds may be accompanied by a fever, but allergies are not usually associated with a fever.

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