Do allergens decay/die?
January 21, 2008 1:21 PM   Subscribe

How long does an allergen remain allergenic?

For example, it's the middle of cedar fever season in Austin and I've been suffering constantly with a runny nose and sneezing. However, for the past four days it's been cold and rainy, and the pollen counts from the news sites show the cedar counts to be really low. However, I'm still sneezing.

My guess is that the pollen stays in the carpets and keeps getting airborne when people walk around it. My question is, then, let's say there are no more pollen emitted, how long will that pollen that is already spread remain a problem.

I've gone through this season before last year, and eventually things get better. Which leads me to think that any of the following are occurring:
- the pollen just gets vacuumed or inhaled eventually until there's no more left
- the pollen deactivates or "dies," and no longer remains and issue
- some combination of the above
posted by philosophistry to Health & Fitness (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
the pollen deactivates or "dies," and no longer remains and issue

I don't think that's it. An allergic reaction is a response to a protein (or sometimes another chemical) that doesn't change in that way.
posted by winston at 2:15 PM on January 21, 2008

I agree with winston. There are products on the market which purport to break down the proteins in pollens and other allergens to reduce their impact upon allergy sufferers. I have no idea whether they work or not.
posted by caddis at 2:33 PM on January 21, 2008

Well, it's important to understand that it's the cytoplasmic part of the pollen that causes the allergic reaction. Particles within the pollen grain are released through germination pores, or (quite often) due to bursting. This often occurs after the grain comes into contact with moisture - such as when it touches the inside of your nose. But it also happens after rainfall. So it's important to realise that even though the pollen counts drop after rain, the allergens are still out there. Indeed, many people have worse reactions after rainfall for just this reason.

I have read reports that, after a few weeks, the ability of pollen to expel their cytoplasm is lost, but I think it varies quite a bit depending on the pollen type.

It's conceivable that the smaller, allergen containing materials inside the pollen do not last long after their release (proteins degrade over time, just like pretty much everything else), but I suspect they last quite a long time while they're still within the pollen grain. You can test this, though. Just keep some pollen cones in a jar for six months, and see if they make you sneeze in June ;-)
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:10 PM on January 21, 2008

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