Right now it’s a tree that’s causing you to sneeze so much…

From coast-to-coast and in virtually every part of the country, resplendent white, pink and purple blossoms have begun bathing the landscape in the unmistakable hues of peak springtime. Yet if you happen to be one of the 24 million-plus sufferers of seasonal allergies, you’re sure to take in more than just nature’s magnificence while admiring the glory.[1] The tree pollen produced by these beauteous flowerings aggravates allergy symptoms and is one of the primary reasons you’re doing so much sneezing, sniffling and tearing these days.

Tree pollen allergy season

Think of tree pollen as essentially spring allergy season’s “opening salvo”. Once nature awakens from its winter slumber, trees begin to flower and then propagate. In so doing they become the source of the year’s first pollen. Yes, this means it’s actually plant sex that’s the source of your allergic misery every spring!

While the often spectacular blooms of magnolias, japanese maples and dogwoods may attract much of the public’s attention, other trees are far more responsible for causing allergic symptoms. Birch, hickory, cedar, ash, alder, elm, oak, willow and cedarwood, to name a few of the most egregious offenders, produce a fine, powdery pollen that can carry for miles on the wind. Going anywhere near these trees can allow these tiny pollen grains to enter nasal passages, eyes and lungs and trigger symptoms in sufferers of allergic rhinitis and allergic asthma.

How long does tree pollen allergy season last?

Tree pollination can begin as early as January in areas of the US with warmer climates and can continue through June all over the nation. That’s quite a lot of pollen! What’s worse, climate change means pollen producing seasons are rapidly becoming longer and more intense.

And as tree pollen allergy season continues, you won’t only have to be strolling through a park, botanical garden or picnicking in the backyard to be exposed to tree pollen. More and more of the pollen spreads far and wide to coat the ground, plant leaves and home interiors.

Tree pollen allergy symptoms and how to manage them

The pollen from trees causes allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, symptoms reminiscent of the common cold:

  • runny nose with clear, thin discharge
  • itchy, red and watery eyes
  • sneezing, often profuse
  • stuffy nose, i.e. sinus congestion

Moreover, those allergic to the pollen of certain trees, birch and alder perhaps most notably, may in some cases also be sensitive to certain foods. This phenomenon, known as “oral allergy syndrome ”, occurs when a person’s immune system gets confused and mistakes the proteins found in a tree’s pollen to those found in foods such as peanuts, apples, cherries, fennel, hazelnuts, pears and others. Those susceptible can experience tingling, an itching sensation or swelling in the mouth when the reaction-causing foods are consumed. In most cases these symptoms can be relieved by cooking or even simply heating the foods, as heat alters their protein structures and helps the body avoid mistaking them for allergens.

Even so, in very rare instances people with “oral allergy syndrome” can develop a life-threatening allergic condition called anaphylaxis when they consume foods containing an allergen. It is important to immediately contact emergency medical services should this condition arise. Usually these foods will cause an itching sensation in the mouth which will improve when the food is cooked or heated because the proteins change when heated and thus the body does not mistake the food as an allergen. As a starting point for treatment, allergy kit testing in consultation with an allergist can help identify susceptibility to common allergens and point the way towards the most effective therapeutic options.

Antihistamines, medications which temporarily block the inflammation response of allergic reactions due to exposure to allergens like tree pollen, dust, pet dander and mold, are commonly recommended for treatment of mild-to-moderate symptoms and are available in over-the-counter and prescription strengths.

Those who live in windy climates where pollen spreads more pervasively and/or who experience heavier symptoms may benefit from immunotherapy, a long term treatment regimen involving allergy shots or sublingual pills.

What can we do to limit our exposure to tree pollen?

  • Be aware of the daily pollen count in your area: during allergy season keep an internet browser open to the CDC’s pollen count website. Remain indoors, particularly in morning hours when pollen concentrations are at their highest, on days when the pollen count is high — above 10 on the scale.
  • Spring clean your home: thoroughly vacuum, dust and mop to scour your indoor living environment of common allergens that accumulated during winter months. Continue vacuuming at least twice weekly to keep allergens, including tree pollen, from accumulating indoors.
  • Keep doors and windows closed during spring and summer months: Particularly on windy days, keep openings shut to avoid pollen entering your home. In addition, make sure occupants wipe shoes and feet before entering on a door mat situated outside the entryway to avoid tracking allergens inside.
  • Landscape with trees that produce less pollen: As discussed above, some trees produce considerably more pollen than others. “Hypoallergenic” trees include female varieties of dioecious species such as Juniper, Mulberry and Poplar. trees: Having a pollinating tree in the backyard can expose you to up to 10x more pollen than if the tree is located a block away. Landscape with so-called hypoallergenic trees: female trees of dioecious species such as Juniper, Mulberry and Poplar.
  • Wash your hair and clothes after spending time outside: Though it may not always be convenient or feasible to fully decontaminate kids, pets and/or yourself after each outdoor adventure, strive to do your best to avoid bringing allergens from the outside, inside. At the least, give hair a good shake and clothes a good brushing/pat down before re-entering the home.

Because tree pollen spreads so easily and rampantly, tree pollen allergy season can present quite a challenge for allergy sufferers. While it may not be possible to completely protect against the impact of tree pollen, aim to limit your exposure and be sure to consult with your allergist to get help with controlling your symptoms.

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  1. Summary Health Statistics Tables for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2018, Tables A-2b, A-2c