Free Shipping Over $40
20% Military Discount
20% First Responder Discount

Allergy Seasons

Allergy Seasons

While we often focus on using masks and respirators as protection from harmful pollutants such as PM10 and PM2.5, there is another use of respiratory protection devices that is just as important. This is the use of masks as filtration devices for airborne allergens.

 

Where the effects of pollutants such as PM2.5 are long-term and rarely noticeable, the impact of airborne allergens can be much more immediate. As such, it’s essential to take steps to minimise exposures. One particularly effective action that we can take against airborne outdoor allergens is to don a mask capable of filtering fine and ultrafine particles.

 

Currently, just under 10% of all adults and children in the United States have been diagnosed with allergic rhinitis, often called hay fever (1). This makes it the fifth most common disease in the U.S. However, the pollen particles that cause hay fever are only one form of airborne allergen.

 

Other common airborne allergens that can often impact people are dust mites (which can become airborne), animal dander, and mould. While dust mites and animal dander are typically limited to indoor environments, mould spores are prevalent outdoors in some settings. 

 

Together, mould spores and pollen impact millions of people globally. Symptoms of these allergies can range greatly, with some people experiencing only irritations and others experiencing more severe reactions. While pollutants such as PM particles get most of the media attention, it’s equally important to discuss allergens and the protective steps that we can take against them.

 

This article will focus on outdoor allergens and how masks can help minimise exposure to these irritating if not dangerous particles. We will also pay particular attention to allergy season, picking the correct mask for airborne allergens, and the science behind how masks can help.

 

While there are airborne allergens outside of pollen and mould spores, we will be paying particular attention to these two particles. This is because hay fever, in particular, is widespread and a big concern to many people. However, many of the points in this article discussing masks can also apply to protection from other allergens.

 

With that being said, let's jump straight into the first talking point of this article. We want to begin by discussing one of the most frustrating times of the year for anyone with hay fever - allergy season.

 


What Is Allergy Season? 

While Airborne allergens such as pollen are present year-round in most parts of the world, there is a particular season in which pollen becomes especially prevalent. This time is often referred to as ‘allergy season’, and it typically occurs in early spring and continues until September in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, allergy season typically occurs from September to March.

 

However, referring to allergy season as one chunk of time simplifies it too much. There are actually three distinct pollen seasons within allergy season. For the northern hemisphere, these are as follows: tree pollen season (February-July), grass pollen season (May-August) and weed pollen season (May-September) (2).

 

For Australia and New Zealand in the southern hemisphere, tree pollen season occurs from September - November, grass pollen season from November to February, and weed pollen season occurs from October to March (3, 4). In both the northern and southern hemispheres, mould spores contribute mainly to autumn allergies. 

 

Allergy Season Times:

 

Northern Hemisphere:  February - September

 

  • Tree Pollen Season: Feburary - July
  • Grass Pollen Season: May-August
  • Weed Pollen Season: May-September

  • Southern Hemisphere: September - March

  • Tree Pollen Season: September - November
  • Grass Pollen Season: November - February
  • Weed Pollen Season: October - March

  • Of course, it is worth noting that these are general times. Some years will bring different weather patterns that can cause allergy season to be delayed or advanced. Further, local climates can cause allergy season to differ slightly between areas. With that being said, the dates mentioned generally hold true, and allergy season variance will only change minimally within these time frames.

     

    Throughout the tree, grass and weed seasons, pollen is released by plants in order for them to reproduce. These particles are released by male plants and need to reach female plants for reproduction to occur. These fine particles are very small, and light and are easily caught and transferred by the wind. 

     

    As the wind picks up these particles, they can quickly come in contact with people or even be inhaled when we breathe. Since these particles are small and plentiful, there is often no way to avoid them during allergy season. For this reason, there is no way to avoid pollen altogether when outside. Rather, actions that minimise exposure should be taken.

     

    While early spring to early summer tends to be the peak of allergy season, some years see the season continue later into summer. This is because the peak time for the most common allergen to cause hay fever, grass, occurs in June and can continue until September (2). This is the time when most people will experience hay fever symptoms.

     

    Pollen is very broad, and many different types of pollen can cause reactions in people. However, most people are only allergic to a specific type of pollen, and for this reason, pollen allergies can impact different people at different times. 

     

    For example, a person who is allergic to a particular tree pollen will likely experience symptoms earlier in the year than a second person who is more susceptible to the effects of grass pollen.

     

    Due to this, it’s hard to pinpoint when allergies will impact each individual. However, allergy season is a broad term that applies to the months through which the most pollen types are present in the air. Specifically, when the most common allergen to cause hay fever, grass pollen, is the most common.

     

    Although this isn’t a myth-busting article, there is one point that we want to address because it often leads to confusion. When we think of pollen, it’s likely that flowers are the first thing that comes to mind. Therefore, it makes sense that allergy season correlates to when flowers bloom, right?

     

    This isn’t the case. Allergy season is not related to flowers as flower pollen does not become airborne. Instead, it is carried by bees from one plant to another. The pollen that does become airborne comes from trees, grass, and weeds.

     

    Since these pollens are airborne and fine, they pose a more significant threat than flower pollen. Where flower pollen can be avoided quite easily, airborne pollens are near impossible to avoid without removing the source of the particles.


    Common Allergens During Allergy Season

    Now that the concept of allergy season and the different times of each season have been introduced, let's dive a bit deeper into the key allergens of each season. Tree allergy season, grass allergy season and weed allergy season have all been mentioned, but what allergens constitute each season?

     

    Tree Allergens: The most prominent tree allergens that can be found in spring air are ash, aspen, birch, cedar, elm, oak, willow and more (5). Many of these trees are common all over the northern hemisphere, and pollen is common all over.

     

    Grass Allergens: It's easy to think of grass as one thing. After all, it mostly looks the same! However, there is a wide range of grasses, with some more likely to cause allergy-related issues than others. The most common allergenic grass types are Bermuda Grass, Johnson Grass, Kentucky Bluegrass, Orchard Grass, Sweet Vernal Grass and Timothy Grass (6).

     

    Weed Allergens: Weed pollens are the last to appear in the northern hemisphere, and allergens from these plants become most common after the grass season has passed. Common weed allergens include ragweed, sagebrush, pigweed, lamb’s quarters and tumbleweed (7). 

     

    While it's impossible for most of us to fully remove exposure to these allergens, especially considering how common many of them are, some steps can be taken to reduce our exposure.


    How Masks Reduce Allergen Exposure

    If you're looking for a technical explanation of how masks filter particles, including allergen particles, we recommend reading this article on mask filtration mechanisms. It covers everything you need to know about how masks work from a scientific standpoint. 

     

    However, put simply, the job of a mask is to prevent the wearer from inhaling potentially harmful particles. Masks do this by catching particles attempting to follow airstreams through the filter. The same concept applies to allergen particles - masks can filter them before they reach the wearer, meaning that the ill-effects caused by the particles can be avoided.

     

    For the best protection, it's vital to ensure that you use a mask capable of filtering the fine and ultra-fine particles that can cause reactions. To make sure you choose a suitable mask, we have put together a helpful guide (link). The guide covers everything you need to know to choose the best mask for your needs.

     

    Pollen particle sizes range greatly - the smallest pollen particles are around 10μm, with the largest being around 200μm (8). The pollen particle size depends on the plant from which the pollen particle is released, and there is also a level of variation between similar pollen particles.

     

    In the world of filtration, these particles are large. Very large. Certified masks and respirators holding ratings such as N95, KN95, KF94, or similar can filter particles only nanometres in size!

     

    Therefore, even for the smallest pollen particles around 10μm, masks are highly effective and can often filter > 99.999% of outdoor allergen particles. This filtration number is even higher for pollen particles on the larger end of the spectrum.

     

    Looking at these numbers, it's easy to see how masks can help prevent exposure to irritating airborne allergens. Provided that the device is fitted correctly and has minimal leaks, a mask can, in theory, provide near-perfect protection.

     

    There is a caveat to this, however. That is that masks only assist the respiratory system. That is to say; they only filter the air that we are breathing through our mouth and nose. Some people will experience symptoms when allergens come in contact with their eyes. Unfortunately, masks will not alleviate these effects.

     

    If you're wondering whether or not a mask will help you regarding allergies, it's best to get advice from your doctor or a medical professional. They will be able to point you in the right direction.

     

    However, put simply, the job of a mask is to prevent the wearer from inhaling potentially harmful particles. Masks do this by catching particles attempting to follow airstreams through the filter. The same concept applies to allergen particles - masks can filter them before they reach the wearer, meaning that the ill-effects caused by the particles can be avoided.

     

    For the best protection, it's vital to ensure that you use a mask capable of filtering the fine and ultra-fine particles that can cause reactions. To make sure you choose a suitable mask, we have put together a helpful guide (link). The guide covers everything you need to know to choose the best mask for your needs.

     

    Pollen particle sizes range greatly - the smallest pollen particles are around 10μm, with the largest being around 200μm (8). The pollen particle size depends on the plant from which the pollen particle is released, and there is also a level of variation between similar pollen particles.

     

    In the world of filtration, these particles are large. Very large. Certified masks and respirators holding ratings such as N95, KN95, KF94, or similar can filter particles only nanometres in size!

     

    Therefore, even for the smallest pollen particles around 10μm, masks are highly effective and can often filter > 99.999% of outdoor allergen particles. This filtration number is even higher for pollen particles on the larger end of the spectrum.

     

    Looking at these numbers, it's easy to see how masks can help prevent exposure to irritating airborne allergens. Provided that the device is fitted correctly and has minimal leaks, a mask can, in theory, provide near-perfect protection.

     

    There is a caveat to this, however. That is that masks only assist the respiratory system. That is to say; they only filter the air that we are breathing through our mouth and nose. Some people will experience symptoms when allergens come in contact with their eyes. Unfortunately, masks will not alleviate these effects.

     

    If you're wondering whether or not a mask will help you regarding allergies, it's best to get advice from your doctor or a medical professional. They will be able to point you in the right direction.


    How to Choose the Right Mask for Allergy Season

    AirPop is a tight-fitting mask ideal for allergies.

    When choosing any mask, a range of factors needs to be considered. However, when it comes to masks for allergies, there are extra aspects to take into consideration on top of the usual.

     

    This section will focus mainly on the factors unique to choosing the correct mask for allergy season. If you want a more general overview of what needs to be kept in mind, please refer to our detailed post about choosing a suitable mask.

     

    The first consideration is the filtration of the mask. It's essential to find a device capable of filtering airborne allergens. In this case, pollen. Luckily, masks certified under almost all of the industry-standard certifications will be more than capable of filtering these large particles. Any mask holding an N95, KF94, KN95 or equivalent rating will be very capable.

     

    Unlike with air pollution and other ultra-fine particles such as viral particles, the mask with the highest filtration efficacy may not be ideal for allergen protection. Instead, since the device only needs to be effective against large pollen particles > 10μm, we can put more emphasis on finding a well-fitting, comfortable mask. That leads us straight into the second point.

     

    It's of the utmost importance to find a mask that fits correctly. This means that it can seal adequately and doesn't leak. If a mask leaks, air doesn't need to pass through the filter. This leads to issues as not only can air pass into the mask unfiltered but so can the pollen particles caught in the air. 

     

    While it can be hard to find a mask that seals correctly with minimal leakage, it's worth looking around to find something that fits your face as best as possible. Unfortunately, when it comes to masks and respirators, it's often all too easy to get caught up in filtration percentages. However, filtration is never the whole story - fit is equally if not more important.

     

    If you're going to be wearing a mask outdoors for extended periods, we should consider two more factors. First is the comfort of the mask. While it can be hard to judge the comfort before trying the device yourself, there are some things to look out for.

     

    These are some questions that I ask myself to judge the comfort of a mask before purchasing it: Do the earloops look comfortable? Does the material look heavy? Does it leave sufficient room for talking?

     

    Secondly, the materials in the mask should be considered. While all masks in 2021 should be safe to wear, some materials can be irritating for some people. As such, it's worth checking to see if the manufacturer has any material safety certifications. 

     

    In the case of AirPop devices, all masks have undergone DIN ISO 10993-5 2009-10 testing by a third-party laboratory. This test certified our masks as non-toxic and skin-friendly. This means that you can rest assured that the device won't irritate your face, even after long periods of wear.

     

    When it comes to masks for allergy protection, one factor isn't usually taken into account but is essential. That is the washability of a mask. When it comes to pollen, it's important to wash clothing items when returning home to remove particles that can become entangled in the surface.

     

    The same applies to masks - while they will stop pollen from reaching your respiratory system, pollen will often get stuck on the outer layer of the mask or the earloops. While this doesn't cause an issue as long as the mask is donned, these particles can become detached and cause issues once the device is doffed. 

     

    This means that pollen particles can enter your home and potentially cause irritation as they fall off the device. For this reason, it's essential to prevent this situation from happening. Luckily, there are two ways to ensure that this issue doesn't occur.

     

    The first is to use disposable masks that you can put in the trash after every use. But, of course, this comes with the downside that disposable masks have a significant environmental impact (link to the previous article). For that reason, the second approach is often better. That is to use a reusable mask that can be washed regularly. 

     

    Ideally, a mask with removable filters is best. This will allow you to remove the filter from the device and wash the mask's shell without impairing the mask's performance. Depending on the filter construction, washing can be very detrimental to the filtration efficacy. 

     

    Over time, pollen particles may also build up on the device's filter. If this is the case, it's also essential to consider the washability and longevity of the filter itself.  Some filters are capable of maintaining filtration performance even after being washed.

     

    AirPop filters have had wash-cycle testing carried out by a third-party laboratory. The results indicate that the filter can retain> 99% filtration efficiency even after five washes. Therefore, even if the filters need to be washed they can keep performing until they meet their lifespan of at least 40 hours.

     

    If a device instead uses a built-in filter, ensure that the mask can retain filtration efficacy even after being washed. Since washing is essential for minimising exposure to allergen particles, this is of the utmost importance.

     

    To summarise this section, it's essential to consider filtration, fit and comfort when purchasing a mask. However, these factors should be considered when purchasing a mask for any purpose. In addition, washability and performance after wash cycles needs to be reviewed.

     

    AirPop recommends that you have multiple masks to cycle through. After washing a mask, drying can take as long as 24 hours. As such, it's important to make sure that you can cycle through masks so as to always have one on hand. 

     

    One way to do this is to have multiple reusable (washable) masks. Another possibility is to have a reusable mask alongside some semi-disposable masks such as the Airpop Light SE. These masks are washable and can last for at least 40 hours each. Having these alongside a reusable mask will ensure that you have access to a capable mask even when your primary device is being washed or dried.


    Conclusion

    Allergy season can be a challenging time of the year for many people. While the best way to avoid the impacts of this environmental phenomenon is to stay inside and remove/avoid the source of the particles, there are often times when neither of these strategies is plausible or possible. 

     

    In this case, the best way to minimise exposure to allergen particles is to don a capable mask. A good device will make sure that you are not inhaling pollen particles. On top of this, it can protect you from other harmful particles that you may not have even considered. 

     

    If you suffer from hay fever, it may well be worth investing in a reusable mask that can be used long-term. While these kinds of devices are more expensive initially, they come out both cheaper and more environmentally friendly in the long run. On top of this, reusable masks often provide higher filtration and comfort than their disposable counterparts.


    Sources:

    1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/160665
    2. https://www.kingedwardvii.co.uk/health-hub/uk-hay-fever-ultimate-guide
    3. http://www.allergy.org.nz/site/allergynz/Annual%20Pollen%20Calendar%202018%20A3.pdf
    4. https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/allergic-rhinitis-hay-fever-and-sinusitis/pollen-allergy
    5. https://www.webmd.com/allergies/tree-pollen-allergy
    6. https://www.zyrtec.com/allergy-guide/understanding-allergies/types/grass-pollen-guide
    7. https://www.aafa.org/pollen-allergy/
    8. https://smartairfilters.com/en/blog/mask-filter-pollen-purifier-protect-hayfever/
    Previous post Next post