The beautiful silver bark and delicate swaying branches of the birch tree can herald misery through birch pollen for thousands of people. For the pollen of the birch tree is notorious for producing hay fever (seasonal allergic rhinitis) symptoms, including:
- Frequent sneezing
- Blocked nose
- Runny nose
- Itchy eyes and/or nose
- Red watery eyes
How common is Birch Pollen Allergy?
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:
When does the Birch Pollen Season Start?
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 6pm) while various other tree pollens are produced in the morning hours. Birch, and other tree, 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.
What can I do about my Birch Pollen Allergy?
It is certainly possible to reduce your exposure to birch tree pollen by adopting the following allergen avoidance tips:
- Consider installing air conditioning in your car.
- Use a face mask when you cycle and wrap a scarf over your nose when you walk at peak pollen times.
- Try Haymax, a natural pollen barrier or a dab of Vaseline just inside your nose to trap birch pollen grains.
- Always check the pollen forecast. The following sites give good information: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/health/public/pollen-forecast and http://www.worcester.ac.uk/discover/pollen-forecast.html. Plan your activities accordingly.
- Keep windows and doors shut during peak birch pollen times.
- Don't dry clothes outside during the pollen season, as they will collect up pollen grains and bring them inside.
- Similarly, change your clothes and wash your hair when you come in from work. You should also wash your clothes and bedding with Allergen Wash Laundry detergent.
- Use an effective allergy air purifier to achieve 2-3 complete air exchanges per hour.
- Brush pets thoroughly when they come indoors to remove birch pollen that clings to their fur or wash your dog in PET+ Pet Shampoo to naturally destroy birch pollen on contact
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 the symptoms of hayfever, 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.