By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Tree pollen allergies are all too common in America and all too frustrating for sufferers.
Tree pollen allergies are triggered when you inhale pollens from specific trees to which you are allergic. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reports that 40 million Americans suffer from tree pollen allergies, also called allergic rhinitis, seasonal allergies, or nasal allergies. The UKís National Health Service says 20 percent of people in the UK are struck down by the discomfort of seasonal sneezes and sniffs.
But what if the sneezing starts not in spring or summer when plants start to bloom but in March, or even January? Why does that happen Ė do you have a strange case of hay fever?
But, did you know that, if you suffer from the sniffles earlier than other hay fever sufferers, the culprit is likely to be a tree. Grass pollen is the most frequent allergy trigger but a significant number of people suffer from tree pollen allergies. According to research from the University of Worcester about 25 percent of hay fever sufferers in the UK are allergic to tree pollen. How can you prevent tree pollen allergies? What can be done to minimize the suffering caused by this seasonal allergy?
What is Tree Pollen Allergy?
Your body normally produces antibodies in response to an infection. But when youíre allergic to tree pollen, the spores trigger an antibody reaction. The reaction floods your body with histamine, which produces symptoms of allergy. One walk in the woods later and youíre sneezing, suffering from a stuffed or runny nose, itching around the eyes and mouth and seeing the world through bloodshot eyes. You may also suffer from a burning in the throat, wheezing, headaches, clogged ears or exhaustion. (Read more about why allergies get worse at night.)
Types of Trees That Cause Allergies
In the UK, trees most likely to cause problems are birch, hazel, alder and horse chestnut. In the US, depending on the region, itís the pollen from birch, oak, ash, elm, hickory, pecan, box elder and mountain cedar that trigger allergies. Birch is the worst offender. Allergies to birch pollen are common in Northern Europe. Here up to 20 percent of people in some large cities suffer from birch pollen allergy, according to the European Community Respiratory Health Survey 2007.
When Do Tree Pollen Allergies Strike?
Unfortunately for the sufferer, trees produce their pollen at different times of the year. If youíre unlucky enough to be allergic to more than one species Ė and you also suffer from grass pollen allergies - you could be suffering from January through August. Trees generally release their pollen earlier than grasses, in late winter and spring. Prime birch tree pollen season is from March to May and once thatís over, the oak pollen season starts towards the end of April. If your allergic symptoms begin in January or February youíre probably allergic to hazel, elm, alder or yew pollen. Grass pollen allergies begin where tree pollen leaves off, in late May through to August. Can you reduce or stop the itchy eyes and sneezes caused by tree pollen? Experts suggest a number of natural remedies to cut tree pollen allergic symptoms. Do remedies for tree pollen allergy work?
Top 10 Natural Remedies for Tree Pollen Allergies
1. Treat Your Tree Pollen Allergy With More of the Same
Whether youíre sneezing because of grass pollen or tree pollen, many tactics for beating the allergic blues stay the same. The difference is in the detail, for example with desensitization. Desensitization treats allergies by exposing your body to small quantities of the same allergen, the type of pollen or plant that triggers your allergic symptoms. In the case of birch pollen allergy, take a daily dose of birch tree sap to treat hay fever caused by birch trees. A homeopathic preparation of Betula 30c, made from birch pollen, is also said to bring relief.
2. Cut Out Cross Reactions to Reduce Tree Pollen Allergic Symptoms
When youíre allergic to birch pollen or another type of tree pollen, your problems often donít end with the tree itself. You may also develop a reaction to certain vegetables, nuts and fruits.
This is called oral allergy syndrome and it happens because the trigger foods contain proteins similar to the proteins in the problematic pollen.
To cut symptoms such as throat and mouth itching, try cutting out problematic foods. When birch, hazel and alder pollen causes an allergic reaction, you may also react badly to raw tomato, celery, carrots, peppers and raw onion, as well as apples, peaches, plums, cherries, lychees, kiwis and pears.
Problematic nuts include hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and peanuts. You may need trial and error to guide you in cutting out the correct foods but it can help lessen the severity of your symptoms over time.
3. But Donít Limit Your Intake of Fruit and Vegetables
Take care not to do more harm than good by cutting out fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, carrots and peppers from your diet. It may well be a balancing act between cutting your risk of oral allergy syndrome and getting your vitamins, but donít remove everything healthy. Brightly-colored fruit and vegetables contain allergy-busting flavonoids as well as high levels of Vitamin C to help your immune system fight back. Eat as many raw and lightly-cooked vegetables as you can and add garlic to your meals Ė a natural antihistamine with inflammation-fighting properties.
4. Watch the Pollen Count To Reduce Tree Pollen Allergies
Once youíve got a broad idea of when the trees responsible for your allergies pollinate, stay out of trouble by avoiding woodland and gardens with these trees and by keeping an eye on the pollen count and staying indoors on the worst days. The pollen count measures the number of pollen grains in each sample of air and is often narrowed down to grass and birch counts.
Take note of the birch pollen count to learn when to take medication or when to hole up inside with the windows closed.
5. When Youíve Got to Go Out, Stay Protected
Of course itís not always practical to stay inside all day watching TV just because the birch pollen count is high. Work and social events may suffer and you donít want to limit your life because of a tree pollen allergy. When you walk outside, wear wraparound sunglasses to stop the pollen getting into your eyes. Use the carís air conditioning and close the windows when driving. And donít go crazy and walk through birch woodland just when the rangers are cutting down trees.
6. Try Butterbur To Reduce Tree Pollen Allergies
Butterbur, a herbal extract, is said to work like an antihistamine to bring symptoms of tree pollen allergy under control. A 2004 study from the University of Dundee, Scotland looked at the effects of butterbur on hay fever sufferers and found butterbur was more effective than placebo in improving nasal symptoms from hay fever and allergy. However, stay well clear if youíre allergic to ragweed because butterbur is in the ragweed family. And donít take butterbur in its raw form as it can be toxic.
7. Herbs Can Help Treat Tree Allergies
Use soothing aloe vera to reduce the pain of irritated skin and the swelling from tree pollen allergies.
Gingko biloba is also said to help you manage your allergic symptoms Ė gingko is reported to lessen your bodyís response to the allergen intruder.
Liquorice root helps soothe inflammation and redness and eucalyptus clears your nose and throat to help you breathe more easily. Keep up your tea intake Ė green and chamomile can calm allergic reactions and the antioxidants in green tea are said to help boost your immune system.
8. Good Hygiene Means Bad Allergies?
Although the theory hasnít been fully tested, expert opinion claims we are oversensitive to things like pollen because major infections that would originally have taught the body to differentiate between threat and friend have disappeared.
The removal of major childhood infections through good hygiene and medical advances creates a hyper-ready immune system, ready to attack at the sight of pollen. Does that mean experts suggest we stop washing our hands and our food to prevent allergies? Hardly. But research into the hygiene theory may shed new light on why allergies develop and how they can be prevented.
9. A Nasal Cream Treats Tree Pollen Allergies
According to a 2004 study from the Federal Scientific Research Center, Moscow, Russia a ďpollen blocker creamĒ applied to the inside of the nose forms a barrier to trap pollen before it causes allergy symptoms. Researchers tested the cream between 2001 and 2002 on 91 patients and found significant improvements in symptoms.
If this cream isnít available, a touch of Vaseline inside the nose can protect you from the effects of tree pollen inhalation.
10. Treat Tree Pollen Allergy Symptoms With Light
You may not want to be seen treating your tree pollen allergy by sticking two probes up your nostrils, but a 1997 study from the Tel Aviv University found a portable device that beams infrared light into your nose reduces hay fever symptoms. The trial at the university maintained that 72 percent of patients experienced reduced symptoms after using the not-so-flattering device. But when it comes to seasonal tree pollen allergies, who cares about fashion if the treatment brings relief?