What helps with an allergy to birch pollen?
Finally the snow has disappeared, the flowers are blooming and the sun is waking up. Those who are allergic to birch pollen, however, enjoy spring less. Birch pollen allergy is one of the most aggressive among pollen allergies. But that's not all: Birches also distribute more pollen to the environment than other plants. The pollen is so fine that it blows into buildings.
Facts for people allergic to birch pollen
- A birch produces up to 100 million pollen.
- Between 5 and 50% of people in Western and Central Europe suffer from hay fever caused by birch pollen - depending on the region.
- Birch pollen allergy sufferers are usually also sensitive to pollen from related species of the Fagales order. These are alder, beech, chestnut, hornbeam and oak.
- Four out of five sufferers have cross allergies to other plant products.
This is how birch trees spread
Birch trees grow into upright crowns, the branches run thin and hang from the crown to the ground. The flowers are green-yellow and form kittens like willows. The wind dusted the female flowers.
Birch trees emit a particularly large amount of pollen every two years - scientists speak of fattening years. Pollen allergy sufferers are at high risk every two years. The tree's pollen is tiny and looks like a white-yellow powder. Under the microscope, the individual pollen turns out to be slightly angular - with the naked eye they look like spheres.
Iron deficiency as an allergen
The pollen is harmless at first. But if there is an iron deficiency, they develop into an allergen. Molecular pockets in the birch cell bind the iron. Without iron, the pockets remain empty, so the pollen protein turns into a substance that can trigger allergic reactions.
Air pollution presumably leads to an increased iron deficiency in birch pollen, which increases the number of allergies.
Inflammation from fine dust
Birch pollen can also cause inflammation through fine dust. The main cause is the particles of diesel soot. These bind to the surface of the pollen and promote the production of lipid mediators. The pollen releases them on the nasal mucous membrane when inhaled - this leads to inflammation with symptoms such as a cold.
There are fewer birch trees in cities than in the countryside. They love lich and grow in mixed forests, avenues, parks and on the edges of fields. Sand birch and swamp birch indicate that the trees also thrive in extreme locations - in acidic soil as well as in nutrient-poor sand.
The trees hardly have any problems with the cold and therefore became leading trees in Central Europe after the last ice age. When the temperatures rose, oaks, beeches and conifers prevailed. In addition, other tree species were economically more profitable, so that birch trees can hardly be found in the forest.
They occur in around 40 different types of temperate latitudes up to the subarctic in the northern hemisphere. The genus is closely related to alder, hazel and hornbeam. Around ten species of birch are cultivated as garden plants. They are pioneer plants that are the first to colonize difficult locations and thus enable other plants to take root.
It's scary to cross the moor - for allergy sufferers
The number 1 risk area for birch pollen allergy sufferers is drained high moorland. Pay attention to areas where peat is mined. The more water a bog contains, the less birch trees grow. The risk is lower in renatured bogs under the supervision of conservationists. In order to renaturate a bog, these trees are removed first.
They still predominate in bogs and sandy soils, they are typical in the transition from the heather to the forest. In the high mountains and in the far north of Russia and Scandinavia, dwarf birches are the only deciduous trees that survive. Allergy sufferers have to be careful where it is too humid, too dry, too low in nutrients or too acidic for other trees.
There is no complete protection from birch pollen outside. The wind spreads the fine pollen over hundreds of kilometers. The main season for this is April, when the birches are in full bloom. However, the pollen remains in the air until June. Fortunately for allergy sufferers, the trees are easy to recognize: they have a black and white trunk on which the bark rolls off.
Pollen is much more difficult for laypeople to recognize than the trees. Confusion is particularly possible with hazel and alder pollen. The alder trees are oval, the birch trees are round. However, some alder pollen are so round that they can only be guessed as oval. If the shape (round or oval) cannot be recognized, the pollen of the alder cannot be distinguished from tetraporatic birch pollen. If the pollen flies late, then the alder and birch pollen overlap in early April.
Symptoms of birch pollen allergy
They notice a birch allergy from itching in the eyes and nose. Mucous membranes in the throat swell and they have to sneeze. The symptoms correspond to those of a cold, and only in the long term do those affected realize that it is not a flu-like infection.
Some people “get used to” their allergy. They "plan" the complaints in spring, according to the motto "that's the way it is". Taking things “as they are” can have serious consequences. Chronic asthma sometimes develops from an allergy.
If the mucous membranes become inflamed again and again, the tissue itself will be damaged at some point. Therefore, you should definitely visit a doctor if you have an allergy. There is a prick test for the diagnosis, and if the "culprit" is known, the therapy can start.
Treatment of allergy to birch pollen
With a simple allergy, a medication helps to end the symptoms. These remedies can be dripped into the eyes like noses or taken as tablets. A normal birch allergy is not a problem. With the means from the pharmacy, you can survive the spring largely without complaints.
An allergy test is also useful because birch pollen can trigger cross allergies. These are allergies in which the reaction to one substance leads to another. Half of those affected have similar symptoms with apples, pears, cherries or nuts.
Cross allergies also exist with celery, legumes and soy products. When it comes to ready-made foods, these can be found, for example, in soup powder, ready-made seasoning, bread, ketchup, baked goods or creamer.
In soybeans, the stress protein Gly m4 leads to cross-reactions, which is similar to the birch pollen allergen Bet-v-1. It is not known whether there is a critical dose for this cross-reaction. Cross-reactions have already been established when they come into contact with mucous membranes. About 10 to 20% of all pollen allergy sufferers have a cross allergy with soybean protein.
There is no all-clear for fermented and heated soy products. Gly m 4 is destroyed in these. Birch pollen allergy sufferers can easily eat miso soup and use soy sauces. Caution is advised with tofu, soy flakes or soy drinks. Soy in food must be stated on the product.
The diagnosis counts
Pollen allergy and hay fever are "tricky". Even those who react to birch pollen in the prick test do not have to be allergic to them. There is often a cross-reaction with allergens from grass pollen. The pollen season of birch and grass pollen overlaps, and we both take in at the same time. In addition, the triggers Bet v2 and Phl-p-12 occur in the pollen of various plants.
A study led by Prof. Thilo Biedermann found that only 433 of 349 patients who responded positively to Bet-v-1 were sensitive to the birch pollen allergen Bet-v-1. 15 of the participants only responded to Bet-v-2.
Cross-reactions between birch and grass pollen depend on the dose, according to Biedermann's study. Those who only reacted to the panallergic Bet-v-2 in birch pollen were found to be less sensitive to the allergens of grass pollen.
This therapy takes a long time and is recommended for a strong allergic reaction. Here the doctor slowly accustoms the body to the allergenic substance by administering it to the patient in small doses.
The procedure corresponds to a vaccination. Allergy sufferers have the allergen injected under the skin, so the body should adjust to it. With birch pollen, this method is only 60% to 70% successful. The treatment is complex. The patient has to go to the doctor several times every few weeks to get an injection.
With sublingual immunotherapy, those affected take the allergen as drops or tablets. Research is still at the pioneering stage. Doctors hope to treat patients who do not tolerate injections in this way.
In the worst case, the injected allergen can trigger an allergic shock. There is danger to life here. Syringe therapy immunizes against the allergy for seven to twelve years - if the treatment is successful.
Protection from birch pollen
Birch pollen is a "devil's stuff". It settles in carpets as well as in towels, bed linen and clothing. Allergy sufferers often have itchy eyes, although they move in closed rooms where there is not a single birch tree anywhere.
There are pollen grids for windows and doors that also keep insects away. Regular suction reduces the amount of pollen. Allergy sufferers can clean their clothes if they have moved outside. Air purifiers in the home also reduce the number of pollen.
What can allergy sufferers pay attention to?
Are you allergic to birch pollen? Then you can note the following during the risk period in April:
1) Reduce physical reactions outdoors, especially in hot spots such as sand pits, heath areas and bogs.
2) Avoid alcohol. Beer, wine and brandy contain histamine, which aggravates the symptoms.
3) Change bed linen every week, wipe smooth surfaces in the apartment daily.
4) Dry the laundry indoors or in the tumble dryer - never outside.
5) Wash your hair before going to bed because the pollen sticks in your hair.
6) Only ventilate your home when there is little pollen. In the city this is the case in the early morning, in the open countryside after dark.
7) As a victim, you should not plant birch trees in the garden and remove wild specimens.
8) Avoid florists. Birch branches with pollen are popular for flower arrangements. Tell your friends not to give them birch flowers.
Climate change means that birch pollen is in the air earlier due to the higher temperatures. In a mild winter, allergy sufferers should exercise caution as early as February. The higher amount of carbon dioxide increases the amount of pollen. Allergies to birch pollen are increasing. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
- German Pollen Information Service Foundation: Pollen Allergy - Origin and Treatment (accessed: July 29, 2019), pollenstiftung.de
- German Allergy and Asthma Association (DAAB): Cross allergy (access: 29.07.2019), daab.de
- Aha! Swiss Allergy Center: Pollen information - allergenic plants - birch (accessed: July 29, 2019), pollenundallergie.ch
- Professional Association of Pediatricians e. V .: Hay fever (pollen allergy) (access: 29.07.2019), kinderaerzte-im-netz.de
- Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Health and the Environment (GmbH): Hay fever (accessed: July 29, 2019), allergieinformationsdienst.de
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: Oral allergy syndrome (OAS) (access: July 29, 2019), aaaai.org
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: Allergy Facts (access: July 29, 2019), acaai.org
- Mayo Clinic: Hay fever (access: July 29, 2019), mayoclinic.org
- Biedermann, T. / Winther, L. / Till, S. J. / et al .: Birch pollen allergy in Europe, European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2019, nlinelibrary.wiley.com
ICD codes for this disease: J30ICD codes are internationally valid encodings for medical diagnoses. You can find yourself e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.