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Down allergy: does it really exist?


Perhaps one of the most enduring myths associated with allergies is down allergy. In particular, poplar. And, as it turned out, this myth is popular not only in Ukraine, but also in the Baltic countries, central and northern Europe.

Moreover, even some biologists who monitor allergenic pollen in the air believe that it is poplar fluff that causes the symptoms of their hay fever.

But now we will understand together why this myth has no scientific basis.


First, poplar fluff, like any other plant fluff you see in August, for example, is not the flowering part of the plant. That is already its seeds or fruits. They are small , brown, and usually not very noticeable. And the fluff that forms the plant is an adaptation to the transfer of the seed over long distances. With the help of such a device, plants spread more easily to new territories.

But seasonal allergies are caused by plant pollen. It is, in fact, their sperm. Already after the pollen is combined with the egg in the pistil of the plant, a fruit containing seeds is formed from the latter. This happens in all plants.

In particular, the fruit of poplar is a small box, similar to that of cotton. It contains seeds with hairy outgrowths. They help the seeds to spread, flying away from the tree.

Therefore, pollen and down are different stages of development of the organism. Seeds are the embryo, the embryo of the future plant. It is much larger than sperm pollen and has a different structure and composition. Therefore, the seeds cannot easily swell on the nasal mucosa like pollen. Its proteins are not able, like pollen proteins, to penetrate this mucosa and therefore do not provoke allergy symptoms.

And the sneezing that occurs after fluff gets into your nose is a reaction to mechanical irritation. Just the tickle that fluff causes.


However, the real allergy symptoms, however, occur at the time when poplar fluff is carried through the air. But he’s not here. In parallel with it, allergenic plant pollen is also in the atmosphere. Depending on the time when the down spreads, it can be oak, pine or, most often, grass pollen. The last group of plants begins its flowering from the middle or the last decade of April and continues until the end of summer. And it is their pollen that is perhaps the main allergen for the inhabitants of Central and Eastern Europe.

According to molecular tests, more than 40% of all people with hay fever in Ukraine are sensitive to grass pollen.

And we know that pollen is not visible to the naked eye. However, fluff is very clearly visible. And, observing an allergic rhinitis, a person correlates his symptoms with poplar fluff, sinning on him. This is how the myth about the allergenicity of down is born.

Can poplar fluff carry pollen and other irritants?

But there is another ambiguous opinion associated with poplar. His supporters are already those who understand that down itself does not cause allergies. They believe that fluff collects allergens from the air, clearing the atmosphere of them. And partly this is true. However, in order to purify the air, the fluff must spend some time in it. And to collect the pollen of cereals – also go down, closer to them. But, if you pass by a poplar with its fluff, and it has just separated from the tree, then it simply has not had time to work as an air vacuum cleaner. And then this fluff is clean.

Studies by Ukrainian scientists showed that only 30% of down samples collected from the air contained plant pollen. Literally, several grains, in particular, the already named oak, pine and cereals. And all of them were obtained in the cities. Down collected in the countryside was clean. Obviously, the urban atmosphere is more polluted overall. This allows the particles to stay in the air for a long time, from where they are collected by fluff.

A similar situation is likely to be observed with the fluff of other plants. It’s no secret that dandelion has seeds with hairy outgrowths. They are also characteristic of its wild-growing relatives from the Aster family, to which the dandelion belongs. These outgrowths are often long and somewhat reminiscent of poplar fluff. However, unlike poplars, aster fluffs can be seen in the air in August and September.


But what about poplar pollen itself? Poplar is one of the first to bloom, in March, when the pollination season has just begun. And its pollen, like that of other plants, is too small to be seen with the naked eye. Data on the sensitivity of Ukrainians to poplar pollen grains say that on average about 1% of people with hay fever in Ukraine react to it. That is, it is practically safe for people with allergies.

So, the next time you blame poplar for your allergic symptoms, look for nearby lawns with grass that has already released spikelets or panicles. They are the source of allergenic pollen. The one that most likely causes hay fever in you at a time when poplar fluff is in the air.

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