Trees and other foliage release pollen to spread the growth of new seedlings. Pollen can catch a breeze and make its way into your respiratory system. If you have a tree pollen allergy, your eyes, nose, and lungs can become irritated.
Tree pollen allergy season usually appears in spring. It can sometimes occur in tandem with grass allergies in spring and summer. Some trees are more prolific at producing pollen than others.
A tree pollen allergy can produce a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and possibly with swelling and itching around the eye, nose, mouth, and even the ears.
In this article, you'll learn which trees are most responsible for causing tree pollen allergy symptoms. The piece will also go into mild and severe symptoms that can occur, complications from symptoms to be wary of, foods to avoid, and how to manage symptoms year-round successfully.
Table of Contents
Which Trees Cause Pollen Allergy Symptoms
Tree allergies can have your eyes watering and a host of other symptoms. They are some of the first types of pollen to appear, usually between March and May in the United States. But if you live far enough south, your symptoms may begin as early as January and continue to flare up at other various times of the year.
Pollen counts fluctuate depending on a lot of things. These are particularly high in the morning. What's more, on warm, windy days, counts rise. Likewise, after a rainstorm, these counts rise rapidly.
Also, not all trees are equal pollen allergy offenders. Two types of trees are responsible:
- Monoecious trees have flowers that are both male and female and can self-pollinate. Trees such as apple, cherry, dogwood, and eucalyptus tend to be less prolific at producing pollen since these rely on insects for pollination. They cause fewer allergy issues.
- Dioecious trees can be male or female, with the male tree producing flowers that pollinate the female. These are more likely to cause pollen problems.
Trees noted for causing allergy issues include:
- Box elder
- Chinese elm
- White ash
Mild Tree Pollen Allergy Symptoms
Uncomfortable symptoms may be what alerts you that you have a tree pollen allergy. You may have congestion and a drippy nose that can make you feel sick, but without the fever that can sometimes accompany a head cold. Mild symptoms include the following:
- Watery red eyes
- Postnasal drip
- Runny nose
- Puffy eyes
- Sneezing (Usually milder but can be severe in some cases)
- Itching around the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth
- Disrupted sleep
Severe Tree Pollen Allergy Symptoms
Tree pollen allergy symptoms can sometimes be more severe. Symptoms to watch for include:
- Repetitive sneezing: When it seems you can't stop, this is no longer a mild problem.
- Asthma symptoms: If you have allergic asthma, a tree pollen allergy can worsen your symptoms of wheezing and coughing and may result in difficulty breathing.
- Anaphylaxis: In some cases, you can develop pollen food allergy syndrome, in which certain foods mimic the tree pollen you are allergic to. In rare cases, eating these foods can lead to problems breathing and heart symptoms. While a severe reaction is extremely rare, this can be life-threatening and is a medical emergency.
When to Go to the Hospital
If you have trouble breathing or talking, have swelling around the mouth or in the throat, or feel a tightness in your throat or chest, you may be having an anaphylactic reaction. This is an emergency, and you should go directly to the hospital.
Complications of Tree Pollen Allergy Symptoms
For those with asthma, tree pollen can sometimes be a trigger. This means when you're around tree pollen, it may cause symptoms of asthma, such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath that you otherwise have in check.
In situations where you may be around tree pollen, your asthma may flare. It's important to stay on top of this. You should be sure to have your inhaler on hand to help to open your airways. Also, take any prescribed medications that can help to tamp down your tree pollen allergies and keep your asthma at bay.
Oral Allergy Syndrome
This is a syndrome that occurs when the immune system not only reacts to an allergen like tree pollen in the air but also to raw fruits and vegetables that have similar proteins. When these foods are eaten, your body can react, and itching can occur in the mouth and throat.
Foods to Avoid With Tree Pollen Allergy Symptoms
Sometimes those with a tree pollen allergy may find that eating some fruits and vegetables can cause allergy symptoms, such as itching in your mouth or throat. It can happen any time of year. These foods can have proteins similar to those in the pollen you're allergic to. This can trick your immune system into reacting.
It's a common problem, particularly with birch tree pollen, affecting up to 75% of adults with birch pollen allergy. This has been dubbed oral allergy syndrome (OAS) or sometimes goes by the name pollen food allergy syndrome (PFAS).
Some foods that may give you trouble with birch pollen allergy include the following:
If you have a cross-reaction to nuts, you should visit an allergist since these reactions tend to have more serious symptoms. For anyone who reacts to these raw foods, keep in mind you may be able to avoid allergic symptoms by cooking these. That's because the proteins causing the allergy are easily broken down.
Managing Tree Pollen Allergy Symptoms Year-Round
While there's, unfortunately, no way to cure a tree pollen allergy, you do have options. Here are some strategies that can help you to manage your tree pollen allergy symptoms.
Once you find out which tree pollen is causing your allergy symptoms to flare, you can check to see what the pollen counts for this allergen are in your area and stay inside, possibly in a place with the air-conditioning running when these counts are high. The National Allergy Bureau can send you notifications when tree pollen counts are spiking in your area.
Keep the Home Front Clear
While ducking inside when counts are high can save you some misery, the last thing you want to do is bring the pollen into your home with you. To avoid this, try the following:
- Wear a hat and sunglasses outside.
- Remove your shoes outside before coming inside so you don't track pollen inside.
- Change your clothes after coming inside.
- Don't forget about your pets—wipe them down before they come into the house.
- Shower and thoroughly shampoo your hair when you come inside and/or before going to bed.
- Put on sleepwear to sleep in—not your outside clothes.
- Keep your windows and doors closed.
- Don't hang laundry outside to dry.
Take Allergy Medicines Proactively
If you know that the start of your tree pollen allergy season is just around the corner, don't wait. Have your allergy meds handy (including over-the-counter medications) before you need them. Allergy medications can help control symptoms before they have a chance to bother you.
Artificial tears or prescription eye drops such as Systane (polyethylene glycol), Optivar (azelastine), Pataday (olopatadine), or Zaditor (ketotifen) can bring relief to itchy tearing eyes.
Taking an antihistamine can also get rid of itching. This can come in tablet or liquid form and provide relief usually within half an hour. Some antihistamines including Zyrtec (cetirizine), Xyzal (levocetirizine ), Claritin (loratadine), and Allegra (fexofenadine) work promptly and won't make you drowsy.
But not all antihistamines are the same. Particularly for kids, you may want to avoid Benadryl (diphenhydramine), which may act as a sedative.
You can also use nasal sprays to control symptoms, but these can sometimes take a few days up to two weeks to feel relief. Nasal sprays can eventually reduce inflammation and swelling or may work by simply rinsing away pollen.
Steroid nasal sprays to reduce swelling and tamp down inflammation include Nasacort (triamcinolone acetonide), Flonase (fluticasone propionate), and Rhinocort (budesonide). For itch, antihistamine spray like Patanase (olopatadine) and Asteline (azelastine ) may work.
Decongestants like Afrin (oxymetazoline) or Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) can relieve nasal stuffiness. These work by shrinking the lining of the nose.
Whichever medicines bring you relief, use them sooner rather than later.
Another way to deal with tree pollen allergies is to try to use immunotherapy to try to build up your tolerance. Here's how this can work.
You can undergo allergy shots. These work to alter the immune system. A small but increasing amount of an allergen, such as tree pollen, is given so you become less sensitive to it over time.
Another option is to try sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). Rather than needles, this involves placing drops containing the allergen under the tongue to decrease sensitivity to tree pollen.
Tree pollen allergies can trigger seasonal allergy symptoms, with the timing depending on where you live, but generally in March through June. A variety of trees can produce pollen that triggers allergies. Symptoms can include red watery eyes, runny nose, congestion, and sneezing. While most symptoms are mild, tree pollen allergies can exacerbate asthma.
Some fruits and vegetables with similar proteins to tree pollen can cause an allergic reaction as well, called oral allergy syndrome, with itchiness and swelling of the mouth, tongue, or throat.
Getting a handle on tree pollen allergies can involve everything from avoiding the allergen to taking medication for symptoms or immunotherapy to build tolerance to the allergen.