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The Pollen Section

Trees that Make You Sneeze

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The Atlantic

East coasters are blessed with more coniferous (and mostly non-allergenic) trees than the rest of the country, but poplars, maples, oaks and birch trees are also present. Maritime trees usually start churning out pollen in late winter to early spring, Nicholls says.

Newfoundlanders, however, may not start sneezing until May because, as Nicholls notes, it “warms up really slowly. The longer it’s frosty and cold, the slower those catkins will emerge and release pollen.” Katz says fresh air blowing off the ocean also keeps some east coasters’ allergies at bay.

Turning off the tap

Why are some trees more irritating than others? Stark says it depends on the amount of wind-blown pollen a tree produces, as more pollen means more reactivity, as well as the physical properties of pollen grains, such as size, coating and weight (lighter seeds are easily carried on the wind). Trees that rely on insects or birds to transfer pollen from male to female catkins, such as cherry and Pacific Dogwood, have seeds with a waxy coating, which helps stop reactive proteins from reaching the immune system and firing it up.

The telltale sign a patient is allergic to trees is the timing of symptoms, says Dr. Eric Leith, chair of the Canadian Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Foundation, and an allergist in Toronto and Oakville. “If you’re coughing and rubbing your eyes after the snow melts, trees are a likely cause,” he says. A skin-prick test or an allergy blood test can confirm the diagnosis.

Relief from tree pollen’s toll is available: there are reliable, non-sedating antihistamines and nasal-steroid sprays, or ask an allergist if you’re a candidate for immunotherapy (allergy shots). Those who sneeze at trees should also try to keep the pollen out of their homes by keeping the windows shut in spring. Remember that the lovely breeze has a role in the great pollen explosion.

Reprinted from Allergic Living magazine. © Copyright AGW Publishing Inc.
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