What is Birch Allergy?
The birch tree can pose a huge problem for those with pollen allergy as it produces large amounts of pollen. Birch pollen can travel long distances and can cause allergic reactions such as itchy and water eyes, runny nose, sneezing etc. Those with birch allergy can also be allergic to certain fruits, vegetables and nuts due to allergic cross-reactivity. It is observed that people who experience unexplained springtime nasal and eye symptoms are known to suffer from birch pollen allergies. Birch growth is strong in the forests of Eastern, Central and Northern United States and individuals native to these states are more prone to birch allergies.
Sometimes, when people with birch allergy consume certain fruits, vegetables and nuts – they experience itching and swelling of mouth, lips and throat. This is caused due to an allergic cross reaction between birch pollen and the fruits and vegetables. This allergic reaction is also known as oral allergy syndrome or pollen-food allergy. The following article gives an overview on birch allergy.
Why Does Birch Allergy Cause Oral Allergy Syndrome?
The birch pollens are structurally similar to the proteins present in certain fruits, vegetables and nuts. Hence, when a person with birch allergy consumes certain foods, the immune system reacts to the structurally-similar proteins of the food.
Oral allergy syndrome can sometimes be prevented by peeling, cooking or baking the foods.
Causes of Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS)
OAS happens when a person eats particular nuts, vegetables and fruits. While some patients may be allergic to a single food, other may be allergic to multiple foods.
Individuals allergic to tree pollen develop OAS to many foods. Some individuals react to certain vegetables and fruits and these reactions cannot be categorized into any allergy group. When tropical foods are the cause of OAS, it may be due to allergy to latex.
Cooking destroys the allergenic proteins causing OAS. So, restrict raw foods if you suffer from this malady. However, nuts and celery may still cause reactions even after they are cooked.
Birch Pollen Allergy Symptoms
Respiratory Symptoms – Nasal allergy symptoms are observed which mimic those of flu or cold. The common symptoms include runny nose that alternates with nasal and sinus congestion, heavy sneezing, postnasal drip which irritates the throat and results in coughing. Asthma patients are greatly affected from tree allergies. If the birch pollen count is high in air, breathing problems arise such as shortness of breath and wheezing.
Eye Symptoms – The inflammatory response caused by birch pollen also affects the conjunctiva or mucous membranes of eyes. The tiny, airborne pollens of birch can easily enter into the eyes and nasal passages. Therefore, the body releases histamines which leads to inflammation of the eye by which the eye becomes red. Thickened fluids accumulate in the eyes that overflows thus forming teary eyes. Even the eyelids turn puffy and this condition is called allergic conjunctivitis.
Itching Symptoms – Histamines released as a result of allergic reactions create itching feeling in the nasal passages. Itching also occurs in the ears, mouth and throat. It also exacerbates the allergic conjunctivitis condition along with itching in the eyes.
Food/Diet for People with Birch Allergy
Those who have birch allergy can have allergies when they consume the following foods:
Apples, almonds, plums, carrots, cherries, pears, peaches, wheat, potatoes, walnuts and fennel. Therefore, one needs to be conscious about food.
Managing Birch Allergy
• Avoid going outside when the pollen count is high
• Use HEPA-enabled filters and vacuum cleaner in the house to get rid of birch pollen
• Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from pollen
If you have hay fever or oral allergy syndrome, using anti-histamines can help in relieving the allergic reaction. Always carry an epinephrine to prevent anaphylactic reaction.
To treat birch allergy, immunotherapy or allergy shots can be a long-term solution. In this treatment, small amounts of allergens are administered through injections over a period of time. Gradually, you would be desensitized and can overcome birch allergies. Consult your allergist for the best possible treatment for birch allergies.