The beautiful silver bark and delicate swaying branches of the birch tree can herald misery for people suffering with birch pollen allergy. For the pollen of the birch tree is notorious for producing hay fever (seasonal allergic rhinitis) symptoms, including:
In fact, birch pollen is the most common allergy after grass and affects 25 per cent of people with hay fever. Moreover, people with birch pollen allergy often develop an allergy to certain foods, including apples, peaches, celery, cherries and nuts, which causes swelling of the lips when the food is eaten. They may also be allergic to hazel and alder pollen.
The birch is one of several tree species in the UK, which produce allergenic pollen. The tree pollen season lasts from early January to late June and the trees flower and produce pollen in roughly this order:
The season lasts from mid-March to early June, with a peak in pollen in April. It may vary by a month either way, depending on winter weather. In Scotland, the birch pollen season starts around two weeks later than in southern England. Birch tree pollen is produced in the afternoon (its release peaking sometime between noon and 6 pm) while various other tree pollens are produced in the morning hours. Birch and other trees, pollen is carried around by the wind (unlike the pollen from flowering plants, which is carried by insects and far less likely to cause an allergy problem). That is why it is present in large quantities in the air. Birch pollen grains are very small (between 10 to 40 microns in size). They can be carried through great distances so you might not even need to be in the presence of birch trees to experience hayfever symptoms triggered by birch pollen.
Birch pollen grains contain specific proteins which cause a response in an allergic person but are harmless to those who are not allergic. The response causes the production of histamine by the immune system and this is responsible for the typical symptoms of hayfever. The sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose and – often – headaches can interfere with work, study and social life and if they are severe, it is worth asking your doctor to refer you for skin prick or blood tests to pinpoint whether it is birch pollen that you are allergic to, so you can work towards avoiding it.
It is certainly possible to reduce your exposure to birch tree pollen by adopting the following allergen avoidance tips:
You may not be able to avoid birch pollen entirely so it's also important to have some effective medication on hand. The new generation non-sedating antihistamines(like Claritin) are useful against hay-fever symptoms because they block the action of histamine. You may find short-term use of a decongestant helpful as well. Most hayfever medications are available over the counter. Always read the label and, if you have questions, do ask the pharmacist about the medication.
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