What is Tree Pollen Allergy?
Tree pollen allergy is an allergy to tree pollen. Pollen is a fine powder produced by the male part of a tree. In many tree species, that powder is picked up by the wind and spread around to fertilize the female part of the tree and reproduce. As the process happens, the tree pollen spreads to surfaces, blows into open windows, and lands on us as we go on throughout our day. For people who are allergic to tree pollen, this can trigger allergy symptoms.
As trees only produce pollen during certain times of year, people who are allergic will only experience symptoms seasonally. In the United States, 25.7% of adults and 18.9% of children have seasonal allergies. Tree pollen is one of the most common seasonal allergies.
How do you know if you are allergic to tree pollen?
People who are allergic to tree pollen experience allergy symptoms when exposed to tree pollen. But tree pollen allergy symptoms can be subtle and hard to pin down. The only way to know for sure if you are allergic is to see a board-certified allergist for testing to see what is causing symptoms.
The allergist will take your medical history and review your symptoms. They the allergist will likely perform skin testing by placing a small amount of several diluted allergens onto your skin . You then wait 15 minutes to see if a raised, itchy bump appears. If it does, then you have an allergy to that particular allergen.
Tree pollen allergy symptoms
Tree pollen allergy symptoms may vary from person to person. People with a tree pollen allergy often experience symptoms related to allergic rhinitis (“hay fever”) and allergic conjunctivitis (eye allergies). These symptoms include:
- nasal congestion
- itchy nose, eyes, ears and mouth
- runny nose
- itchy eyes
- red or watery eyes
- eye swelling
- disturbed sleep
- moody and irritable
Tree pollen allergy treatment
There is no cure for tree pollen allergy. Treatment is available and it starts with over-the-counter and/or prescription allergy medications. These include antihistamines, decongestants and corticosteroid nasal sprays. They are helpful in relieving pollen allergy symptoms.
Start taking your allergy medication about 1-2 weeks before tree pollen season begins in your area. If you know your allergies are worse in early spring, start taking your medications two weeks before symptoms typically begin.
Antihistamines do exactly as the name suggests: reduce histamine created by exposure to pollen grains. Most are available over the counter.
Nasal decongestants also do exactly as they suggest: reduce congestion in the nose. They are for short-term use only. They should not be used for more than 3-5 days or congestion might worsen.
Corticosteroid nasal sprays work by reducing inflammation in the nasal passages. They should be used regularly during allergy season, rather than as needed.
Over-the-counter and prescription eyedrops and oral medications can also be used to treat eye allergies.
When you know you’re going to be outside for an extended period of time and exposed to tree pollen, it may be helpful to pre-medicate first. Use an antihistamine or corticosteroid nasal spray two hours prior to going outside. For eye allergies, use eye drops as needed.
If these medications are not helping, talk with your allergist about other treatment options. Leukotriene modifiers, mast cell stabilizers and anticholinergic medications can help treat more persistent or severe pollen allergies.
Allergy shots, also called allergen immunotherapy, are another treatment option. They can provide long-lasting relief for pollen allergy. Allergen immunotherapy involves injecting a tiny amount of tree pollen allergen into the body, gradually increasing the dosage over time. The goal is to desensitize the immune system to those allergens. This can help reduce or even eliminate symptoms of allergic reactions.
Sublingual immunotherapy is an alternative to allergy shots. It involves taking a tablet (or pill) that dissolves under the tongue. Sublingual immunotherapy contains small amounts of the specific tree pollen extract to which you are allergic. This desensitized your immune system to make it less sensitive to the tree pollen, reducing symptoms.
How to prevent tree pollen allergies
Tree pollen is a very fine powder that travels anywhere the wind carries it. Have you noticed the pollen powder covering your car, window sills or outdoor furniture? It’s very difficult to avoid it, apart from locking yourself in a sealed house during tree pollen allergy season. Of course, that’s not practical. There are some practical things you can do to help reduce your exposure and symptoms.
- Use sterile saline eye drops and/or nasal sprays to flush out pollen from your eyes and nose.
- Try nasal rinses and washes. A solution of saltwater (sodium chloride) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is placed in a rinsing device to wash out the nasal passages. It can help shrink swollen membranes, improve airflow, and open sinus passages. You can buy a premixed solution packet at pharmacies or make your own.
- During tree pollen season, keep your home and car windows closed and run your air conditioner.
- Avoid wooded areas, especially in the early spring when tree pollens are most prevalent.
- If you’re buying trees for your yard, look for tree species that are less likely to cause symptoms. These may include crape myrtle, dogwood, pear, plum or redbud. You might also consider female varieties of ash, maple, poplar or willow trees.
- After you have spent time outside, change your clothes. Shower before bed to get pollen out of your hair and off your body.
- Dry your laundry indoors rather than outside.
- Check daily pollen counts on TV, in the newspaper or online. Pollen counts aren’t perfect as they often represent collections made 24-48 hours earlier. But they should give you a general idea of when counts are the highest.
- Consider wearing a face mask. This can help filter pollen and keep it from reaching your nose. If eye allergies are a problem, consider wearing sunglasses outside.
What time of day do trees release pollen?
Tree pollen counts tend to be highest early in the morning or when really breezy. They are often most potent on warm, dry and windy days or right after a thunderstorm. Remember, the pollen collects on your body throughout the day, so changing clothes and showering after being outside can help reduce your symptoms.
Tree pollen allergy cross reactivity
Are you allergic to birch trees and you find yourself getting an itchy or tingly mouth when eating a peach? You are likely experiencing what is known as cross reactivity. No, you are not allergic to peaches. Rather the proteins found in birch trees are similar to those found in peaches and it confuses your immune system. Your immune system notices something similar to your tree pollen allergen and it begins the immune response leading to allergy symptoms. People who experience this have oral allergy syndrome (OAS), also called pollen food allergy syndrome (PFAS). OAS usually isn’t a serious condition. In rare cases, it can lead to anaphylaxis, a severe or life-threatening allergic reaction.
|Cross Reactive Foods
|apple, peach, melon , almond, celery, cherry, parsley, strawberry
|apple, peach, pear, apricot, cherry, strawberry, raspberry, kiwi, tomato, carrot, celery, peanut, walnut, hazelnut, mung bean, soy bean, plum, nectarine, fig, mango, persimmon, jackfruit, chickpea, potato, chicory, fennel, poppy seeds, chamomile, parsley, anise seeds, cumin seeds, and coriander seeds
|fig, kiwi, pineapple, papaya
|tomato, peach, apple, fig, melon
|apple, peach, melon
|tomato, banana, apple
|peach, chestnut, celery, carrot, parsley, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, aniseeds , paprika, garlic, onion, leek, pepper, mango, mustard
|peanut, hazelnut, soy, celery, cherry, chestnut, kiwi, mungbean, pear, raspberry, soybean, strawberry, tomato, walnut
|peach, pear, banana, kiwi, melon
|hazelnut, banana, celery, peanut, hazelnut, peach, celery, apple, asparagus, chickpea, lettuce, green beans, maize
|banana, melons, kiwi, banana, peaches, zucchini
What foods should you avoid to prevent a cross reaction?
There are no specific foods to avoid to prevent an OAS cross reaction. Rather, it is important to know what specific tree pollen you are allergic to and then be aware of what foods could potentially cause a cross reaction. Just because you are allergic to a specific pollen does not mean you will experience a cross reaction. If you do experience a cross reaction, you may find it only happens during pollen allergy season and you can eat that food the rest of the year without issues. Also, cooked versions of cross-reactive foods will not cause symptoms.
A tree pollen allergy is a reaction to the proteins found in tree pollen. These cause common allergy symptoms in the nose and eyes, and sometimes the respiratory system. Tree pollen allergy is not life-threatening in itself. In rare cases, OAS symptoms can progress to anaphylaxis.
A tree nut allergy is a reaction to the protein found in a specific tree nut. These symptoms are often sudden and serious – affecting the skin, respiratory system, mouth and throat, and stomach. A tree nut allergy can lead to anaphylaxis.
What is tree pollen oral allergy syndrome?
People with tree pollen oral allergy syndrome may experience symptoms when eating certain foods that contain a similar protein structure found in tree pollen. OAS symptoms could arise after eating a botanically related fruit or vegetable. These symptoms may include:
- Tingly or itchy mouth
- Hives on the mouth
- Scratchy or sore throat
- Swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue or throat
Tree pollen season map
Tree pollen season varies depending on where you live. A good rule of thumb is the farther south you live, the earlier the pollen season. See the map below.
What trees produce pollen?
The U.S. is home to many varieties of trees. Many of these trees are wind-pollinated, meaning they fertilize by spreading their pollen through the wind.
There are two types of trees: monoecious or dioecious:
- Monoecious trees produce flowers that are both male and female. That means this tree can self-pollinate.
- Dioecious trees produce flowers that are either male or female. The male tree pollinates the female tree.
In your neighborhood or community, it may be hard to know what trees produce the most pollen. If you are planting new trees around your home, avoid planting the monoecious and male dioecious trees.
Trees that are insect-pollinated, such as dogwood, eucalyptus, apple and cherry trees, are not as problematic. This is because the pollen does not spread easily and is not as widespread.
Below is a list of trees that produce pollen, with notations on whether the tree is a major contributor to pollen allergy. (This list does not cover all trees.) While some trees are specific to certain areas or the entirety of the United States, they can be found anywhere depending on if they were native or planted.
- Alder – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy
- Almond tree
- Apple tree
- Ash tree – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy
- Ashe juniper tree – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, it is also referred to as mountain cedar. It causes the so-called “Cedar Fever” in the U.S. Southwest and neighboring regions in winter months.
- Aspen – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy
- Beech tree – can produce high levels of pollen, but it is not as potent as other tree pollens
- Birch tree – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy
- Box elder – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, with very potent pollen
- Bradford pear tree
- Cedar – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, with very potent pollen. Cedar trees are not the cause of “cedar fever” in the U.S. Southwest; that is the Ashe juniper tree.
- Cherry tree
- Chestnut tree
- Chinese elm – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, it tends to release pollen in late summer and early fall.
- Conifer trees – these are a group of trees that produce cones. The pollen is produced in the male pollen cones. Conifer trees include pine, fir, spruce, cypress or hemlock trees. They are often used for Christmas trees.
- Cottonwood – can produce high levels of pollen, but it is not as potent as other tree pollens.
- Cypress – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, but it only grows in warmer climates.
- Eastern red cedar – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, with very potent pollen.
- Elm tree – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy
- Fir tree – can produce high levels of pollen, but it is not as potent as other tree pollens.
- Ginkgo tree (maidenhair)
- Gum tree (sweetgum)
- Hazel tree – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy. The tree can also trigger eczema symptoms when touched.
- Hemlock tree
- Hickory tree – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, it grows primarily in the eastern and midwestern United States.
- Horse chestnut tree
- Jacaranda tree – may cause eye allergies more than respiratory allergies. The flowers may also attract bees, increasing the risk for an insect venom allergic reaction if stung.
- Japanese cedar
- Juniper – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, with very potent pollen. It has similar properties to ragweed, another common allergen.
- Lime tree
- Mango tree
- Maple tree – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, with very potent pollen.
- Melaleuca tree (punktree)
- Mesquite tree
- Mountain cedar – a commonly used name for the Ashe juniper tree.
- Mulberry tree – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, with very potent pollen.
- Oak tree – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, with very potent pollen.
- Olive tree – can produce high levels of pollen, but the tree is not common in the United States
- Palm tree – some palm trees, such as the date palm, can produce high levels of pollen that cause allergies. Others produce very little pollen.
- Pecan – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, with very potent pollen.
- Pine tree – can produce high levels of pollen, but it is not as potent as other tree pollens. Pine trees can also be a source of a pine nut allergy, which is an allergic reaction to eating pine nut, similar to other tree nut allergies.
- Plane tree
- Plum tree
- Poplar tree – can produce high levels of pollen but it’s not as potent as some other pollens. They grow all over the United States, but the most allergenic are found in Minnesota and the U.S. Southwest.
- Privet tree (Ligustrum) – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, with very potent pollen.
- Red cedar – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, with very potent pollen.
- Sagebrush – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, with very potent pollen. It’s found in many areas of the Midwest and western United States.
- Spruce tree – can produce high levels of pollen but it’s not as potent as some other pollens.
- Sweetgum – can produce high levels of pollen but it’s not as potent as some other pollens.
- Sycamore tree – can produce high levels of pollen but it’s not as potent as some other pollens.
- Syringa tree (lilac)
- Walnut tree – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, with very potent pollen.
- White ash – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy, with very potent pollen.
- Willow tree – a major contributor to tree pollen allergy
Tree Pollen Count
An important part of tree pollen allergy management is gauging when allergens are at their worst. Check out our Asthma and Allergy Forecast page to help you determine what days your tree pollen allergies may be at their worst.
Questions & Answers (Q&A) on Tree Pollen
Tree pollen is a broad subject and you may have a lot of questions how best to identify and manage tree pollen allergy. Here are some of the most common questions we’re asked about tree pollen. If you have any questions you’d like to see answered here, please email the editor.
What exactly is tree pollen?
Tree pollen is a fine powder-like substance that is used to fertilize trees. This allows them to reproduce. The pollen is most commonly spread by wind, but can also be spread by insects. When some people are exposed to tree pollen, usually by inhaling it when outdoors, they develop allergy symptoms.
What is the "most allergic" tree pollen?
There is no specific “most allergic” tree pollen. Birch, cedar and oak trees are found across the United States, so these may be the most common allergic tree. Trees vary by region, so tree pollen allergies can also vary by region.
What is the most common tree pollen allergy?
There are certain trees that are the source of allergies including: alder, ash, beech, birch, box elder, chestnut, conifers (such as cedar, firs, hemlocks), elm, hazelnut, hornbeam, hop-hornbeam, maples, oak, olive, lilac, mulberry, privet, and sycamore.
Is tree pollen dangerous?
Do trees produce pollen in the winter?
Yes, trees can start producing pollen as early as January, particularly in warmer climates.
When does tree pollen season end?
It varies depending on where you live. For most areas of the country, tree pollen allergy season ends in May. In chilly climates with late-arriving spring, it may end in June.
What tree produces yellow pollen?
Several types of trees release yellow pollen. Conifer trees are a common source of the yellow pollen we see coating cars and windows. Oak trees produce pollen that is a yellowish-green powder. And since pine tree pollen is larger than other types of pollen, it comes in a light yellow color.
Is tree pollen causing my asthma?
If you are diagnosed with allergic asthma, and tree pollen is one of your allergens, then it can contribute to your asthma symptoms. Tree pollen can get into your airways, causing irritation and inflammation that can lead to an asthma flare-up.
Does tree pollen cause chest tightness?
When you breathe in tiny tree pollen particles, this can cause irritation in the airways and make your chest feel tight. Chest tightness is also a common symptom of asthma.
Can I have a tree pollen skin allergy?
Most people with a tree pollen allergy experience allergic rhinitis or eye allergy symptoms. Some people with more severe tree pollen allergies may also experience a skin rash or hives flare-up.
Are tree pollen and hives connected?
Lot of things can trigger hives – foods, medications, insect bites and, yes, pollen. If you are concerned your hives are triggered by tree pollen, then meet with a board-certified allergist for allergy testing and treatment options.
Can tree pollen cause eczema?
Tree pollen allergies and eczema are different conditions and one does not cause the other. But both are part of what we call the “allergic march.” Research shows children who develop eczema at a young age are more likely to develop allergic rhinitis as they get older.
Can tree pollen allergy cause a sore throat?
Tree pollen allergies can cause postnasal drip, which drains mucus into the back of your throat. This can cause a sore throat, particularly first thing in the morning.
Is there such a thing as a tree pollen headache?
Pollen allergy symptoms include sinus and nasal congestion. These can sometimes trigger headaches.
Can tree pollen cause nausea?
Tree pollen allergy symptoms can lead to postnasal drip. If the mucus drains from your throat into your stomach, it can cause nausea in some people.
Should I move to get relief from my tree pollen allergy?
Tree pollen is everywhere, in every state. Some coastal cities, particularly on the west coast, may be easier on pollen allergies and the constant breeze may help keep fresh air circulating. While you may be able to escape a specific tree pollen in one area, consider that you may find out you are allergic to a different tree in a new environment. Other parts of the country may be more problematic for grass or weed pollens, so deciding to move may not always help.
Is there a tree pollen allergy natural remedy?
There is no supplement or homeopathic treatment that can help with your tree pollen allergy symptoms. However, there are some practical lifestyle changes you can try at home. Use nasal rinses to clear out your nasal passages. Keep your windows closed during tree pollen season. Shower and change your clothes after you have been outside. Wash your bedding weekly. These things may not completely eliminate symptoms but could provide some relief.
Ruthie Marker, MSRC, RRT, RRT-NPS, AE-C, LSSYB is a respiratory therapist with more than 13 years of experience working in adult critical care, neonatal care, and patient education. She joined Allergy & Asthma Network to support the Not One More Life coaching program as a Spanish-speaking Asthma Coach. Ruthie has worked as a respiratory therapist in Texas all of her career and has supported COVID-19 efforts in Maryland and Arkansas.