Types of birches
How and when birch blooms
Birch flowering calendar
Causes of birch allergy
Birch pollen allergy treatment
Leaving the pollen
What to do when the birch has bloomed
I never would have thought I’d be interested in botany. Allergy stimulated my dormant interest in trees and herbs, especially birch and alder. Now I take pictures of birch catkins, carefully examine alder pollen and do many other strange things for the delight of children and bystanders.
There are also advantages to this, for example, I can spend hours telling mothers on the playground about the treachery of birch, how it carries its poisonous pollen through hundreds of kilometers just to annoy allergy sufferers.
Sometimes, at night, I want to organize a collection of signatures and launch a bill that encourages felling of birches. Sometimes I want to go live in the desert. But while I’m here, I have to put up and study my enemy.
Birch pollen, this unofficial symbol of Russia, is a real horror for allergy sufferers. At the conference of allergists, foreign doctors are amazed at the activity of our northern birches in comparison with the southern European ones. The concentration of pollen in our birches can be thousands of times higher.
In the European part of Russia, birch blooms from mid-April to June, which means that it is time for allergy sufferers to feel unwell and possible acute reactions.
Types of birches
Birch belongs to the beech family, which is divided into subclasses: birch, hazel, beech, elm, casuarine, myrik, royptelnye, walnut and others.
Birch is unpretentious and tenacious – a kind of weed among the trees.
Birches also have advantages, they are beautiful and perfectly clean the air from unpleasant odors and pollution, therefore they are often planted next to busy highways.
In Moscow and St. Petersburg, the most generous species of pollen are drooping or warty birch (Betula pendula). This type of birch occupies large areas in Europe, Asia and even in North Africa.
Birches that grow all over the world:
Scientists count about 65 species of birch trees.
- Cherry Birch (Betula lenta). Habitat: Baltic States, Russia, Belarus.
- Bog Birch (Betula pumila)
- Paper Bark Birch (Betula papyrifera). It got its name from the fact that its bark was used as paper. Grows in Western Europe. On the territory of Russia, it is found in parks, botanical gardens and forest stations.
- Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii).
- Japanese White Birch (Betula platyphylla ‘Japanica’)
- River Birch (Betula nigra).
- Silver Birch (Betula pendula or B. verrucosa).
- Weeping Birches (Betula pendula var.).
How and when birch trees bloom
The birch begins to bloom when sap begins to drip from the trees. After 15-17 days, the buds swell, which soon bloom into the first leaves. At this moment, the 20-day flowering begins. From late July to early August, fruits appear on the trees – small winged nuts, which are called lionfish.
Only male earrings bloom near the birch. Female earrings are poorly visible in spring, they look like sticks and only after pollination do they look like an earring.
Allergy sufferers have a sign: if February is cold, then dusting will be explosive (since the earrings are stratified, gaining strength). If February is warm, there will be no violent dusting.
Birch blooms in different regions in different ways. In St. Petersburg it is only a month, but there are regions where birch is dusty from April to September.
In the south of Russia, birch blooms in March, in the central regions in mid-April, and in the north of the country in May.
Experienced allergy sufferers say that birch always adheres to its schedule exactly: it starts to dust, regardless of the weather, at approximately the same time. However, wet weather can lengthen the flowering time, while dry weather shortens it.
After a light rain, the pollen becomes more aggressive. For pollen grains, air humidity is a signal for reproduction. Pollen emits proteins, allergens, into the atmosphere, which are smaller than a pollen grain and more easily penetrate the bronchi.
During a thunderstorm, the same thing happens – the amount of protein allergens in the atmosphere increases dramatically. Stormy asthma is a dangerous condition that often leads to bronchospasm.
At such a time, it is better to refrain from walking and go out into the street after a good long-lasting rainstorm.
Dusting comes to an end when the earrings darken and fall off, and yellow dust disappears from cars and sidewalks.
Birch pollen monitoring
Don’t neglect monitoring. You should know when the birch tree begins to bloom in your area and either run away to hell, or close at home.
As you already understood, the wind can carry pollen over huge distances from the nearest and not so neighbors. Therefore, even if the flowering in your city has not yet begun, it is useful to check the situation in the neighboring regions.
If you are planning to leave, be sure to check if anything bad is blooming in the place where you are going.
The closer to the ground, the higher the concentration of pollen. Most of the pollen is at the level of one and a half meters from the ground. This is important to know, since all pollen traps for monitoring systems are located on the roofs of buildings. Keep this in mind.
Those who live on the 25th floor shouldn’t relax either. The pollen easily rises to any floor of a residential building.
Causes of birch allergy
- Heredity is one of the main causes of birch allergy. When there are allergy sufferers among moms and dads or grandparents, then there is a high probability that the child will also have a reaction.
- Ecological situation. The deplorable state of the ecology in cities causes many diseases, including allergies.
- Stress, bad habits, illness – in a word, everything that hits the immune system and weakens it.
- Bronchial asthma.
- A reaction to birch can develop when the allergic person is already allergic to food, animal dander, or other inhalation allergens.
Why allergies occur
- The pollen is very small and light, therefore it is carried by the wind over great distances and easily gets on the mucous membrane of the nose, eyes and bronchi.
- Pollen contains proteins that are perceived by the immune system as dangerous to the body.
- When a dangerous protein – a foreigner (antigen) gets on the mucous membrane of the nose, eyes, bronchi or skin, immunity gives the command to the soldiers – defenders (antibodies) to eliminate it.
- During the battle of antibodies with antigen, histamine is released.
- An increased level of histamine provokes the manifestation of symptoms in an allergic person.
I saved the most terrible and terribly interesting for last. It is believed that the main (major) protein of birch Bet v1 is similar to the protein of the human roundworm. The body violently attacks the parasite’s protein. This is why birch pollen allergy symptoms are so severe.
Symptoms of a birch allergy
Allergy symptoms are often confused with the common cold, especially if the person has never been allergic. The easiest way to tell an allergy from a cold is to take an antihistamine. If the general condition after taking antihistamine has improved, you can suspect an allergy.
Birch pollen is an aggressive allergen, so symptoms can vary.
- heavy sweating;
- increased fatigue;
- an increase in temperature (a controversial point: allergy sufferers face this symptom, and allergists deny it. They explain this by the fact that a person may have a simultaneous exacerbation of allergies and infections);
- decreased concentration and attention (children perceive the educational material worse).
From the nervous system
- moodiness, tearfulness;
- sleep disturbance;
- feeling of fear.
Ear, throat, nose
- nasal congestion (often the nose is stuffed up symmetrically);
- profuse mucous nasal discharge (usually transparent, but may be white or yellow, especially if there is a problem with adenoids;
- sore throat and coughing;
- violation of the sense of smell;
- hearing loss, noise, itching in the ears.
- redness of the eyes (usually both eyes, but there may be one);
- swelling and swelling of the eyelids;
- burning in the eyes;
- a feeling of “grit” in the eyes;
- bruising may occur under the eyes, as a stuffy nose prevents blood from flowing out.
- feeling short of breath;
- breathing discomfort;
- wheezing breath;
- asthma attacks;
- wheezing (audible even at a distance);
- dry, exhausting cough without expectoration.
- Itchy blisters on exposed parts of the body.
Onset of symptoms of cross-food allergy (oral allergy syndrome)
- similar proteins cause itching and burning in the mouth after eating fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts;
- redness, swelling of the mucous membrane;
- abdominal pain;
- nausea and vomiting.
Exacerbation of atopic dermatitis.
Important # 1: If you ignore mild allergy symptoms, there is a great risk that over time it can develop into bronchial asthma, especially in children
Important # 2: Weather conditions affect the manifestation of allergic symptoms. During a strong wind, allergy sufferers’ condition deteriorates significantly, since not only pollen rises into the air, but also particles of animal droppings, mold spores that are on the ground.
Once again, I would like to remind you that light rain does not wash off the pollen. He splits it into smaller components, which immediately enter the bronchi. Therefore, it is better to walk during flowering after a shower.
Allergy is diagnosed not by tests, but by manifestations.
If this is your first time experiencing allergy symptoms, it’s time to see an allergist right away. No need to self-medicate. If the symptoms appear once, they will definitely return when the body again encounters the allergen and will increase from season to season.
Antihistamines, vasoconstrictors, and the like can relieve symptoms, but they will not cure the cause of the allergy.
To diagnose an allergy to birch, a competent allergist, most often your story about sensations and symptoms is enough.
To clarify the diagnosis, the doctor will prescribe a blood test using the ImmunoCap method, which can be taken at any time of the year, and even when the allergic person is taking any medications.
Skin testing is another method for diagnosing allergies. Skin tests have their limitations and are not done at the peak of birch flowering.
Do not be upset if you are allergic to birch. Many types of allergies are now successfully treatable. Allergies are treated with allergen-specific immunotherapy (AIT).
Birch allergy treatment
Self-medication will not bring you good, so we will immediately tune in to full-fledged treatment under the guidance of a good allergist. The doctor will evaluate the symptoms and test results, select the therapy, and give advice on how to reduce the effect of the allergen.
Birch allergy can be treated with a medication, which is not a treatment in fact, but is intended to relieve symptoms during flowering.
Another method of treatment is immunotherapy or AIT. AIT is the only allergy treatment method that, if done correctly, can minimize symptoms, reduce the amount of medication and lead the body to a stable remission.
There is no miracle in allergy immunotherapy: for a long time, an allergic person receives a small amount of an allergen, in our case, birch pollen. Small doses of the allergen do not provoke a reaction of the immune system, but teach it to take pollen calmly.
Quite recently, interesting news appeared: Russian – Austrian scientists have created a vaccine (inoculation) against birch allergy, which may appear on the market in a few years, if the tests are successful.
Important: Allergists do not approve of herbal allergy treatment. Herbal medicine or traditional medicine cannot treat allergies and such attempts can be dangerous to the health of the allergic person.
Start taking your doctor’s prescribed medications a few weeks before the calendar bloom begins.
It can be:
- Antihistamines of the second and third generation (drops, tablets, ointments);
- For the nose, you can use a barrier nasal spray – Aqua Maris Ectoin;
- Cromones (cromoglycic acid: Cromohexal, Ifiral, Vividrin);
- Keep in mind that Cromones have a cumulative effect. The drug begins to work after one (minimum) week of regular use;
For the treatment of allergic rhinitis, hormonal sprays are used, for example, Nazaneks, Avamis, Nazapel, Tafen Nazal;
- Inhaled drugs can be prescribed for the treatment, prevention of bronchial asthma or for the relief of acute conditions (pulmicort, flixotide, berodual);
- Montelukast (singular) is often prescribed to maintain the bronchi and to improve allergic rhinitis.
Important: Singular is not a substitute for taking antihistamines.
It is possible to cure an allergy to birch pollen if the organism of an allergic person is sensitive to the main (major) birch protein Bet v 1.
If the body reacts to both major and minor birch proteins, the likelihood of a positive result from allergy immunotherapy decreases. If there is a reaction only to minor proteins, AIT is useless.
Popular drugs for immunotherapy:
- Stalopal – Allergen of birch pollen;
- Fostal – Allergen of tree pollen: alder, birch, hornbeam, hazel (Fostal is temporarily not available for sale).
Sorbents are useless in the treatment of allergies, therefore, allergists do not recommend using them. There are no recommendations for treating allergies with sorbents neither in the WHO documents nor in the FDA documents.
All members of the family Bucous flowers are similar proteins – allergens, and therefore any plant of this family may have a cross-reaction.
If you are allergic to birch, beware of pollen: alder, hornbeam, hazel, beech, oak, chestnut, elm, olive, linden, cypress, etc.
But that’s not all:
- Birch proteins are similar to pollen of cereals and meadow grasses.
- Fruits of the Rosaceae family are at risk: apple, peach, cherry, plum, apricot and others.
- Umbelliferae vegetables: carrots, celery, squash, legumes and nuts.
Are you scared already? Me too. But there is good news: allergists advise to remove from the diet only those vegetables and fruits that have a real allergic reaction. And that’s great, otherwise we would eat bread and water. Although bread is also dangerous, we exclude it, only water remains.
About the bathhouse with a birch broom, you, I think, have already understood – you should not risk it. On dry leaves, a protein remains – an allergen, so for an allergic person the bath may end badly.
A true allergy occurs only after encountering an allergen protein. Where traces of pollen can remain, there is danger: young branches, leaves, buds, birch catkins, birch sap.
And what to do if you have birch furniture. There is rarely an allergic reaction to solid wood furniture. But rarely, it doesn’t mean never. More often allergy sufferers react to adhesives and varnishes with which furniture is treated. Better if the edge of the furniture is well closed, pay attention to this when you go to buy a new bed. There may also be a reaction to wood dust.
Fungi that are dangerous for allergy sufferers can live in furniture: Cryptostroma corticale, Aspergillus alternaria and Aspergillus nigricant.
A tiny pollen grain of birch contains more than 40 proteins – allergens.
The Bet v1 protein is the main (major) birch protein.
The rest of the proteins are minor.
Bet v 1 – PR-10 is the main major birch allergen. PR-10 is found in pollen, fruits, vegetables, and nuts
This protein is found in many food plants – trees and shrubs (with seeds): apples, apricots, peaches, pears, plums, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, rose hips, etc. And in red pepper, celery, carrots – it is also there.
The PR-10 protein is degraded by high temperatures, so thermally processed fruits and vegetables usually do not cause violent reactions.
Bet v 2 – Profilin, minor allergen. Profilins are found in plant foods, latex, pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. This protein is found in the pollen of poplar, elm, olive, chestnut, maple, oak, plane tree. In plant foods: carrots, mangoes, paprika, potatoes, hazelnuts, tomatoes, celery.
Bet v 3 – Polcalcin, minor allergen. It is found in all types of pollen from trees, grasses and weeds.
Bet v 4 – Polcalcin, minor allergen. Polcalcins cause a cross-reaction with pollen of timothy, pig, European olives, turnips, rapeseed.
Bet v 6 – Isoflavone. Cross-reacts with soy.
Bet v 7 — Cyclophilin.
Not everyone knows that a pollen allergy sufferer may develop food allergies during the flowering period of birch. This can be explained by the same notorious similarity of pollen proteins with proteins of some products. In a stressful situation, the immune system is unable to distinguish the pollen protein from the protein of the product and produces an allergic reaction to both.
Cross-allergy to food may look like an exacerbation of hay fever, possibly a sore throat, discomfort in the nasopharynx, and a rash around the lips.
Cross-reactions to foods are less common. According to statistics, only 30% of birch allergy sufferers react to products with similar proteins.
Therefore, if you have no reaction to food, the diet “just in case” is not needed
The exception to this rule is nuts and honey. Allergists advise not to use nuts and honey during the flowering period, even if there is no reaction to them.
If a diet is still needed, below is a list of foods that should be avoided during birch flowering:
Important: Be careful with foods containing histamine and citrus fruits (especially tangerines).
What foods are allowed during birch flowering
- Thermally processed vegetables and fruits (except for young potatoes). For example, baby puree in a jar, compotes. If the reaction also manifests itself on thermally processed products, then we cancel the product until the end of flowering.
- Vegetable soups in secondary broth;
- Not freshly baked bread;
- Groats (buckwheat, oatmeal, rice, corn);
- Low-fat boiled or stewed meat;
- Cottage cheese, kefir;
- Vegetable stew;
- Berries (lingonberry, cranberry, blueberry);
We run away from the birch
If a child has strong reactions during flowering, it is best not to leave the house, even to kindergarten or school, you will catch up later. Take a certificate and make an agreement with the teachers. The argument, they say, in our classes they wash twice a day, ignore it. In schools, windows are opened and classmates will bring enough pollen on their clothes to provoke a reaction.
Adults are better off taking a vacation. An employee with a running nose and red eyes is unlikely to please the eyes of his superiors.
It is necessary to leave for the climatic zone where there are no birches or they have already faded.
Keep in mind that some southern plants have proteins similar to those of birch: olive, hornbeam, cypress, chestnut.
Popular escape destinations for allergy sufferers from mid-April to June: UAE, Jordan, Israel, Canary Islands, Cyprus (be careful, dust storms are possible in Cyprus in May), Crete, Turkey.
Another important point for those who are allergic to cats. In Cyprus, Egypt and Israel, cats are very fond of, and there are not permissible many of them. Winds pick up from the ground and spread hair and dandruff, which easily penetrates the bronchi and can cause bronchospasm within 30 seconds.
Allergy sufferers with bronchial asthma or allergies to mold do not need to go to Thailand or Vietnam, because the humidity there is high and the concentration of mold can be excessively high.
Russian resorts are dangerous for polyvalent allergy sufferers: grasses and other plants bloom there in May and June.
What to do when the birch has bloomed – 32 rules
- Do not expect symptoms, start the therapy prescribed by your doctor a few weeks before the flowering of birch: antihistamines, cromones, montelukast, inhalation for asthma, nasal hormonal sprays. But only if you have had a reaction in the past, the test results are not an indicator.
- It is not advisable to carry out skin tests for tree pollen. Resume diagnostics in October. A blood test can be done.
If you react to cross-protein foods, stick to your diet. If the food does not exacerbate allergies, the diet is unnecessary.
Moisturize your nose with saline or isotonic saline solutions.
- It is possible to use barriers in the nose (nazaval, Aqua Maris Sens), which create a protective film on the nasal mucosa. With caution in children.
- Moisturize your eyes, you can use Sistane eye drops.
- Do not put tea bags on your eyes as this can add bacterial infections and eye swelling.
- Do not constantly rinse your eyes with water, this can provoke protective eye swelling. Use allergy eye drops to relieve itching.
- Postpone all vaccinations and planned surgeries until flowering is over.
- Reduce the access of pollen to the apartment: do not open windows, use an air conditioner and a breather (link) or supply ventilation with a filter.
- Pull the covering material (spunbond) over the windows. Anti-pollen grids do not work well.
- If there are no breathers, and it is stuffy with closed windows, remember that the lowest concentration of pollen in the air is from 4 to 8 in the morning. It is better to air for 5 minutes every 2 hours.
- Install an air purifier or air cleaner in the allergic room. Let them work around the clock. A purifier will not replace a breather, but it will help cleanse the air from pollen at least a little.
- Do wet cleaning of the apartment more often. Indoor pollen can be dangerous for a long time (up to 2 weeks).
- Walk less, especially on dry and windy days.
- Wear a protective mask and goggles.
- Do not walk in the woods or parks. Saturday clean-ups with a rake and kebabs on the May holidays are now only on Skype 🙂
- Close the windows in your car. Use air conditioning and recirculation mode.
- Remember that light rain does not wash away the pollen, but breaks it down into small particles. It is better to take a walk after heavy rain for many days.
- During a thunderstorm, allergy sufferers are better off staying at home.
- After your walk, shower (head). A huge amount of pollen remains on the body and hair.
- Keep your outdoor clothes in covers or bags, wash or steam them more often.
- Change and wash your bedding often.
- Do not dry your laundry on an open balcony or outside.
- Use steam mops or a steam generator to clean the apartment.
- Vacuum dust with an allergy-free Hepa filter.
- It is better to seal the windows around the perimeter with tape so that pollen cannot seep into the apartment.
- Pay attention to ventilation in the apartment, it can also be a source of pollen penetration into the apartment.
- Avoid stress and exercise.
- Do not use herbal medicines or cosmetics.
- Wear an allergy bracelet.
- Wear clothing that is as closed as possible. The pollen on the skin of a sensitive allergy sufferer can exacerbate contact allergies.