America’s Trees of Allergies
Tree Pollen Allergy Tour: Midwest
This region has the typical allergen-producing trees, including the juniper. In general, trees pollinate in two- or three-week intervals The early trees – think maple, juniper, elm, ash, alder – spread their seeds in March and early April, while the later trees – oak, birch, walnut, mulberry, cottonwood/poplar and pine – cause more problems from mid-April to the end of May.
Juniper is one of the biggest culprits in places such as Kansas City, Missouri. Also topping the list of spring pollen producers in this area are pine and elm trees. Elms can flower at two distinct times – as early as January in some areas and not until April in others.
Elms also have Chicago residents around the tissue box in springtime. Other troublesome trees in the Windy City and surrounding area include ash, maple and oak, according to local allergists.
In Salt Lake City, Utah, the ash-leaf maple, white mulberry and green ash typically top the tree allergy list, causing residents to reach for their antihistamines and decongestants.
But the worst offender is the box elder. The bane of allergy sufferers in Salt Lake, and all across the country, it produces more pollen than any other maple anywhere.
Sidebar: THE ALLERGY TRAP
There’s no easy escape from tree allergies, since airborne tree pollens can travel great distances. “Many of these pollens are small and light, and even if the grove of trees is a mile away, you can still be miserable,” says Dr. Frank Virant, head of the allergy division at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Plus, the symptoms can follow you almost wherever you move.
Not long ago, you could escape spring tree allergy season by skipping down to Arizona for a few months. “It used to be that people with allergies to alder or birch would go to places like Phoenix, Tucson or Palm Springs and stay until the end of April or until it got too hot,” says Virant.
Today, there would be almost no point. While these cities still don’t have alder and birch, many plants that are not indigenous to the area are being planted, says Virant. Within a few years, newcomers become sensitized to these new trees and allergic symptoms return with a vengeance.
What’s more, living in an urban center, where the are fewer trees, is also no defense from pollen.
“Pollen doesn’t respect the city limits,” says Dr. John Costa, medical director of allergy clinical practice at Harvard Medical School-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Being in the city is no protection just because there are fewer trees. The pollens blow into the city.”
That said, some cities are worse for allergy sufferers than others. And those with pollen allergies will breathe more easily close to the seashore.
“If you’re facing the water, you’re protected, because offshore winds prevent you from getting the pollen from inland,” says Dr. Donald Dvorin, an allergist and certified pollen counter. “Patients tell us that as soon as they visit the ocean, they’re fine.”
Next page: Stop suffering! Top tips for managing tree pollen allergies