Pollen allergies

A bee hangs onto a stem of goldenrod as it collects pollen, Friday Sept. 18, 2020 in Havertown, Pa. 

A new study by the National Academy of Sciences shows a link between high pollen counts and an increased risk of COVID-19 infection.

"When the higher pollen count levels were in place it was linked to an extra 10 to 30% infection rate in COVID," explained Dr. Sandra Gibney, a local emergency room doctor, on WDEL's Rick Jensen Show.

She said within four days of exposure to pollen, people had a higher propensity to COVID-19 infection, but she cautions--it's not the pollen causing COVID-19 infections--it's what pollen does to your nose.

"Pollen releases substances that first diminish the ability of nasal cells to fend off viruses so they can't replicate in the nose, normally, and then the second thing is it inflames the airway, and that causes a harder time for our immune system to clear and fight infections," she said.

A signature trademark of a COVID-19 infection has become loss of smell and/or taste. 

"That's the door--looking at how well we protect the door, it's almost like a bouncer for the virus. So your nose is a bouncer for the virus, and if those cells within your nose aren't doing a good job, it can interfere with your immune response to be able to fend off viruses at the door."

Dr. Sandra Gibney

Dr. Sandra Gibney

Gibney said severe allergy sufferers may want to heed this advice:

"Usually, you say, 'oh if you're out in the fresh air you can take your mask off,' but for certain individuals that have problems with pollen, we may actually ask them on high pollen count days to wear a mask outside to filter some of those pollens," she said. "Keeping your sinuses healthy will probably more than likely help keep you healthy with regards to COVID."

The study's result come with spring on the horizon as scientists fear a potential surge in variants of the COVID-19 virus.

"In Texas, they're measuring wastewater monitoring for the UK variant, trying to find it in Houston's wastewater. Now Texas has become completely open despite the fact that they only have 10% of their people vaccinated; they have no mask mandate; they have business 100% capacity. We're going to get a lot of data from that, we're going to learn from that," said Gibney.