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Do Not Wait Until the Fluff Flies…Cottonwoods

Bethany K. McClean, MPH, AE-C – BreatheAmerica Albuquerque 

Ah the fluffy little puffballs of late spring that leave children and adults alike enchanted. They also leave those who suffer from pollen allergies running for the nearest door.  Before you stampede in attempts to minimize exposure, you should know that if you’re trying to avoid the pollen of cottonwoods, it’s too late once the fluff starts to fly.  By then, tree season is already upon us.

For those airborne allergen sufferers who are acutely aware of the celebration of spring currently underway by junipers, ash, and elms, let’s talk about cottonwoods.  The name is fairly descriptive of the tree itself. Yes, it has wood, and yes, it is one of the trees whose seeds are surrounded by a fluffy parachute that bears a resemblance to cotton. The seeds are surrounded by the fluff; the pollen is not surrounded by the fluff.  If the pollen is the invitation to this annual spring celebration, then the seeds are the thank you notes.  So, if you are watching for the fluffy little envelopes of thanks to know when the pollen is flying, guess what, that party already happened.  Pollen is what seasonal allergy sufferers are most concerned with when it comes to avoidance.  Cottonwood pollen is fairly small, windborne, and can leave those allergic to it with itching, sneezing, watery eyes, congestion, etc.

There are several approaches one can take to being aware that pollen counts are about to peak.  Pollen season for cottonwoods tends to run from March to May, but varies based on temperatures. To be more precise, pollination of cottonwoods actually occurs right before their leaf buds open.  Watch the pollen counts posted on weather reports, city web pages, or in newspapers. If you are unsure if pollen or other airborne allergens are contributing to how you feel, consider a visit to BreatheAmerica for allergy testing and/or recommendations on care for your symptoms.