When students come to Duke, they hope to have all kinds of experiences. But allergic reactions to plant sperm typically aren't on the list.

Pollen is the yellow, grainy substance that is the male genetic material of various plants and trees. It becomes an especially problematic issue in the Spring, as students are well aware. Students suffering from itchy or watering eyes, nasal congestion and fatigue are not alone this time of year.

“I’ve seen a lot of people being more sick recently and complaining of allergies,” said freshman Grace Smith.

Senior Aibi Janat added that he does not have allergies himself, but that several of his friends have allergies that they "hate." 

Some have adapted better than others. Linh Nguyen, a graduate student in economics, said she is so used to her recurring pollen allergies that they are not even a "big problem" anymore.

Smith noted that she has seen a change in overall campus health during this semester. Approximately 25 percent of the U.S. population on average has seasonal allergies, said Patricia Lugar, assistant professor of medicine at the Duke Asthma, Allergy and Airway Center in the School of Medicine. 

Most pollen is distributed evenly throughout campus, explained Jason Holmes, curator of the Doris Duke Center gardens. Visiting animals and insects, as well as the wind, facilitate the spread of pollen into neighboring environments. He said that most of the “yellow haze” around campus right now is coming from pine and oak trees.

Small pollen grains from trees are likely to be carried by the wind for "miles upon miles" due to their small size, Lugar said. 

The microscopic size of pollen particles allows them to easily penetrate the cell layers of the nasal and respiratory airways, which Lugar explained "perfectly primes" the immune system to trigger an allergic response. 

She also added that pollen affects all members of the Duke community, whether they come from within the country or from abroad.

“If you’re from other regions, you probably haven’t seen [our pollen], and after about two seasons we get large numbers of undergraduates, faculty and staff coming in to get checked out who have developed the same recurring allergic reactions as lifelong residents,” Lugar said. 

Lugar recommended a three-pronged plan of attack for combating these allergies—avoidance, rinsing and topical treatments. She said it is best to avoid outside exercise between the peak pollen hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saline rinses and eyedrops can be useful when applied after prolonged outside activity. 

Students should also roll the windows up when they are driving, Lugar added, and keep their apartment and dorm windows closed. 

Holmes said that eating local honey could also quell allergies, because the honey helps one's body get used to the particular type of pollen in the area. He added that the most important thing students can do is reach out to Duke Health. 

"They understand that students come from all over the world, and so there will be new triggers," he said.