An Introduction to tree pollen
Hayfever can be broadly described as an allergic reaction to pollen, which is normally dispersed seasonally at certain times of the year.
Tree pollen is one of the most widespread causes of hayfever, and it is estimated that there are approximately about 100 different types of trees that can trigger allergic reactions.
The specific types of pollen that you are allergic too, can often have an impact on different aspects of your life, from what you should eat to how you should go about avoiding contact with it.
How can I tell if I'm allergic to tree pollen?
It can often be difficult to understand what type of pollen is causing your allergic reactions. Your doctor may provide a means of determining the source of your pollen allergy, either by performing a ‘prick test’ or taking a sample of your blood.
- Prick test: The name of this procedure can conjure up all sorts of unfortunate images, making us believe that our doctor is about to use us as a human pin cushion. This is definitely not the case though, although yes, there inevitably will be needles involved. The doctor will inject small amounts of different allergens just below the surface of your skin. If you are allergic to any of these allergens, you will start to show symptoms within 15-20 minutes, giving the doctor an indication of the specific strain that you are allergic to
- Blood test: This should be straight forward enough to understand although doctors normally prefer the ‘prick test’ method. Blood tests are more commonly used if you are taking medication or suffer from a pre-existing skin complaint. The doctor will take a sample of your blood and send it away to get analysed at a laboratory, this analysis should be able to tell your doctor the specific allergens you are allergic to.
Types of tree pollen
It is estimated that there are over 40,000 types of trees in the world and that out of these thousands upon thousands of trees, less than a hundred have been shown to trigger allergic rhinitis.
This may sound quite optimistic, but when we take into account how commonplace trees are and the sort of trees that normally cause our hayfever symptoms, we can begin to build a picture of how common tree pollen allergy really is.
- Birch pollen: Birch tree pollen is one of the most common types of allergen and it is usually responsible for the majority of our food pollen allergies. It is normally one of the first trees to pollinate, and a single tree can produce up to 5 million pollen grains, however, their pollen is not dispersed over great distance.
- Oak pollen: There are over 600 different species of oak tree in the world and usually they pollinate from March through to early June. Pollen from oak trees can be dispersed over hundreds of miles and normally lingers in the air longer than other types of pollen. Despite this, oak trees are not especially productive in pollinating and pollination usually peaks around mid-April
- Elm pollen: Elm trees are usually considered to be native to North America and are often used as a decorative feature in urban gardens during to their durability. They can begin pollinating as early as January, but normally they start to disperse pollen around the middle of April. Unlike trees such as the birch tree, elm pollen is not considered to be a major cause of seasonal allergies
- Ash pollen: Ash trees are primarily found in areas of North America and Europe and like elm trees, they can begin pollinating as early as January. Sometimes their pollen can be carried hundreds of miles from its initial point of dispersion
- Willow pollen: It is not unheard of, but it is uncommon for willow tree pollen to cause allergic rhinitis, as willow trees are predominately pollinated by insects
- Sycamore pollen: Sycamore trees are quite common in urban parts of Europe, such as London as they are often chosen to line streets or planted for ornamental purposes in city areas. Unfortunately, the pollen from sycamore trees can be considered highly allergenic and cause cross reactions with foods such as hazelnuts and celery
- Chestnut pollen: Chestnut trees are widespread throughout Europe and can produce chestnuts which should not be ingested by those who are allergic to chestnut pollen. It has also been shown that there are traces of chestnut pollen present in honey which can make the substance a potential allergen.(1)
How to avoid tree pollen
There is no definitive cure for pollen allergies, however there are preventative measures that you can take to minimise your contact with pollen, especially if you happen to know the type of pollen that you are allergic to. Here are a few top tips for managing tree pollen allergies.
- Stay indoors: This might not always be possible, especially if you lead an active and busy life, however whenever possible, try to stay indoors with the windows closed, particularly if it is a hot, blustery day outside. This is a very basic measure to avoid pollen from entering and polluting your home
- Keep an eye on the pollen count: There are a variety of methods to help you keep up to date with the pollen count in your area including our very own A.Vogel Pollen Count page.
- Your garden: It might seem like a drastic step but if you suffer from debilitating hayfever symptoms every year, it could be time to take a look at your garden. If you have trees planted in your garden, such as sycamore trees or birch trees, then it might be worthwhile replacing these high-pollen trees with alternatives such as magnolia or cherry blossom trees. These types of trees are primarily pollinated by insects, meaning that there pollen is heavier and less likely to be dispersed by the wind. They also produce beautiful flowers and are lovely to look at
- Wash regularly: We’re not having a dig at your personal hygiene here, we’re sure it’s exemplary, however it is important to shower regularly when you suffer from seasonal allergies. Whenever you come in from the great outdoors, you should wash your clothes and yourself – this can get rid of any pollen sticking to your skin, hair or your fabrics, and reduce the likelihood of it continuing to irritate you throughout the day
- Clean your house: Again, no, we’re not trying to imply something here, however regularly hoovering your carpets and cleaning your kitchen can prevent the spread of airborne pollens. If people are constantly walking in and out of your home, then they are dragging the outside world in and out with them. By cleaning regularly, you are eliminating allergens from your home, reducing the likelihood of irritating your hayfever symptoms
- Groom your pets: Animals are well-known to traipse in and out of the house, carrying a host of potential allergens with them wherever they go. Fido might not appreciate the daily purge, but it will certainly save you some grief in the future rather than allowing yourself to suffer in silence
- Don’t dry your clothes outside: On a warm, sunny day it might be tempting to opt for hanging your clothes outside to dry rather than crowding your house with clothing-racks or engaging in an argument with your tumble-dryer. This can be a disastrous idea though when you think about it – pollen is dispersed by the wind and will probably stick to your clothes or bedding, potentially contaminating your skin
- Mind what you eat: Pollen Food Allergy is a common condition where the food we eat cross-reacts with different types of pollen, triggering an oral allergic reaction. If you want to read more about the types of food you should be avoiding, then it might worth checking out our Diet and Hayfever page
- Wear sunglasses: This isn’t just a case of trying to protect your eyes from harsh UV waves – wraparound sunglasses can also be used to prevent tiny particles of pollen from irritating your sensitive eyes, instigating an allergic reaction that can cause symptoms such as swollen, dry, weepy and sore eyes
- Plan your outings carefully: Taking a stroll through your local forest will not end happily ever after for you. Instead of indulging in a woodland hike or visiting a nearby botanical garden centre, it might be worth considering an outing at the beach instead. The pollen count is generally lower around this area and not many trees grow close to the ocean, unless you’re fortunate enough to live in the Bahamas.
There are a number of herbal, conventional and home remedies available to ease the symptoms of seasonal allergies. It is important that you try to treat your symptoms as soon as possible rather than allowing them to linger and develop into something more serious. If your symptoms become more serious or prolonged then make sure you go and speak to your doctor and they will be able to advise you further.
- Home remedies: If you are suffering from a blocked nose or congestion, then it might be worth trying to inhale some steam. You can do this by holding your head over a bowl of hot water, or indulging in a steamy shower. The steam should soften the mucous membranes, and work to regulate drainage, unblocking your nasal passages. Alternatively, if you are partial to hot, spicy foods you could try indulging this as they act as a natural decongestant.
- Herbal remedies: Pollinosan Hayfever Relief Tablets are composed of seven different types of herbs, all aimed at treating the most common hayfever symptoms. They are a medically licensed product suitable for children over the age of 12, and unlike conventional anti-histamines, are a non-drowsy solution. Pollinosan tablets can also be used in conjunction with Pollinosan Luffa Nasal Spray, which works to cleanse the nasal passages of potential allergens and irritants.
- Conventional medicines: Most conventional medicines aimed at treating hayfever symptoms, revolve around anti-histamines. Anti-histamines can be bought over the counter but they often cause lethargy and drowsiness, and should not be taken if you are planning to drive or operate heavy machinery. If your systems persist, or get worse, then your doctor may prescribe you steroids which should not be taken for more than ten days in a row.