Birch Pollen Allergy

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Allergy to birch pollen is known as birch pollen allergy. Certain protein present in birch pollen causes over-reaction of the immune system. Such pollen allergies are caused when pollen from the grasses, weeds and trees are released into the air to fertilize each other. If a person allergic to pollen comes in contact with it, his/ her immune system overreacts and causes signs and symptoms of allergy. The body then releases immunoglobulin E, an antibody that travels to different cells, which release a chemical called ‘histamine’ that causes allergic reactions in the body. Birch pollen allergies are worst during the spring season because, this is the time when birch trees bloom.

Causes of Birch Pollen Allergy

Bet V 1:

A single protein called ‘Bet V 1’ is responsible for birch pollen allergies. Bet V 1 is a major pollen allergen that causes type 1 or immunoglobulin E-mediated allergies. Studies have found that it acts as an allergen only when devoid of iron. If Bet V 1 does not bind to iron, it triggers allergic reactions in humans. This allergen manipulates the T helper 2 cells, cells of the immune system that combat parasites. (1)

Birch Pollen Allergy Symptoms & Signs

Respiratory Symptoms:

Birch pollen allergy first becomes evident through respiratory symptoms. It increases the production of pro-inflammatory compounds, which causes inflammation and affects the overall quality of life. Symptoms include:

  • Rhinitis, inflammation of the lining of the nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchiness
  • Nasal discharge
  • Nasal congestion
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Worsening of asthma

Eyes:

Birch pollen allergy affects the eyes too. It causes:

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Watery eyes
  • Itching of the eyes
  • Swelling of the lining of the eyes

Gastrointestinal Symptoms:

Birch pollen allergy has a negative impact on the gastrointestinal system. It causes inflammation of the intestinal mucosa, which may further lead to:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea or loose stools

Oral Symptoms:

People with birch pollen allergy have oral symptoms, if they do not limit the intake of trigger foods. Symptoms include:

  • Itchiness of the mouth
  • Itchiness of the tongue
  • Irritation of the throat
  • Burning and swelling of the lips

Diagnosis and Tests of Birch Pollen Allergy

Medical History:

To confirm a birch pollen allergy, your allergist may ask you about the symptoms, when they started and how long they persisted. Explain the allergist in detail if such symptoms have occurred for the first time or if you have experienced it before. Tell your doctor if the severity of symptoms increases at a certain time of the year, for example spring.

Skin Prick Test:

During this test, your allergist will prick different areas of the skin and insert a small amount of the allergen. Presence of redness, itchiness or bumps at the site of allergen insertion after 15 to 20 minutes indicates the presence of the allergy. (2)

Blood Test:

Immunoglobulin E is an antibody, which increases during the allergy. This antibody tells the cells to release certain chemicals that cause allergy symptoms. If the amount of immunoglobulin E is high in the blood, it is a clear indicator of an allergy.

Risk Factors

Cross Reaction: Individuals who are allergic to a certain food whose protein is similar to the birch pollen protein, increases the risk for birch pollen allergy (3)

Spring Season: Birch pollen allergy worsens and increases during spring time because birch trees are in bloom

Treatment of Birch Pollen Allergy

Anti-Histamines:

Anti-histamines are drugs that fight against histamine, a chemical that gives rise to symptoms of allergic reactions. These drugs help in relieving sneezing, runny nose and itching.

Nasal Sprays:

Nasal sprays are the first choice of treatment for allergic rhinitis. You spray these drugs into your nose and they help in relieving congestion, sneezing and runny nose. It is better to take these sprays before pollen season begins for a better control over symptoms.

Caution

  • Like other allergies, the best treatment is to avoid the allergen. Minimize your exposure to birch pollen by staying indoors on days that are dry and windy
  • Do not visit gardens, parks or other areas with a lot of trees during spring time
  • Avoid gardening work during the peak seasons. Ask someone else to take care of such a work
  • Wearing a dust mask can help when you step out of your house
  • When pollen counts are high, close windows and doors
  • During allergy seasons, limit your intake of raw foods and go for cooked foods, example- cooked vegetables. Cooking may alter the allergy-causing protein

List of Foods to Avoid

If you have birch pollen allergy, stay away from:

  • Apples
  • Peach
  • Apricots
  • Banana
  • Avocados
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Prunes
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
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