Juniper in the Air: Pollen Allergy Takes its Toll


Each spring, fall and summer trees release pollen. This is when pollen allergy takes its toll on us. The job of pollen is to fertilize other plants, but quite often pollen winds up entering our noses and throats, making our lives difficult if not simply miserable.

To make matters worse, pollen is practically inescapable. Even if we seal off our houses, pollen will still find its way in. Moving to Nome, Alaska is not an option. Nor is going to the Oregon Coast likely to get you through the whole Central Oregon season and the pollen on the coast will catch up with you.
Interestingly, plants with bright colored flowers usually don’t bother pollen allergy sufferers. It is the plain looking trees and plants that cause the greatest allergy symptoms. Generally, the trees that are most likely to produce pollen allergy in the Western U.S. are: Oak, Ash, Elm, Cottonwood, Olive, Alder and Maple.  Specifically, here in Central Oregon, Juniper, Mountain Cedar and Pine are significantly problematic.

Juniper and Cedar pollen causes asthma, hayfever and allergic conjunctivitis usually starting in late February or March and lasting until April or May.  Often people develop contact skin reactions with hives or itchy rashes in early February.  These pollens have been observed to travel great distances of 200 km according to wind patterns.

Juniper pollen may be unique in causing allergic rhinitis in patients who have no other sensitivities. A possible explanation may lie in the carbohydrate nature of the main allergen of the mountain Juniper pollen, which may facilitate allergen transport through the respiratory tract mucosa and subsequent sensitization. It has further been observed that after a couple of years of moderate exposure, even the least allergic person will develop Juniper allergy.

When we inhale pollen, the pollen particles act as allergens, causing mast cells in the nasal passages to release chemicals such as histamine. Allergic rhinitis can result, producing inflammation, increased mucous secretion and a other symptoms, which have a detrimental effect on the throat, the nose, the larynx (voice box), the trachea, and the bronchioles. When the larynx is affected by pollen allergy, hoarseness and voice loss can occur. When pollen allergy affects the airways, tracheitis, asthma, and bronchitis can result.

Symptoms include:
• Sneezing often accompanied by a runny or clogged nose.
• Coughing and postnasal drip.
• Itching eyes, nose, and throat.
• Allergic shiners (dark circles under the eyes caused by increased blood flow near the sinuses).
• The “allergic salute” (nasal crease mark).
• Watering eyes.
• Conjunctivitis (an inflammation of eyelids- red-rimmed, swollen and crusted).
• Post nasal drip.
• Mental dullness and fatigue

The Juniper is a large plant, typically over four meters in height, a single trunk which grows in girth with age and branches (which also grow in circumference with age). Junipers, evergreens with needle-like or scale-like leaves, live for many years, retaining leaves throughout the year including changing seasons.

Juniperus is a family of about 50-70 species of evergreen trees and shrubs, many of which are called cedars. Other common names include Mountain Cedar, Cedar Juniper, and Juniper Redberry. Juniperus is distributed throughout North America. Numerous cultivars of Juniperus species are widely used for landscaping. Junipers vary in form from trees up to 40 meters tall, to columnar or low spreading shrubs with prostrate trailing branches.

The female cones are fleshy, their fruit having coalescing scales that fuse together to form a berry-like object containing the seeds beneath the scales. In some species these “berries” are red-brown or orange but in most they are blue when ripe, green when unripe; they are often aromatic, and are sometimes used as a spice. When the seed becomes ripe varies between species from 6-18 months after pollination. The male cones are similar to those of other Cupressaceae, with 6-20 scales; most shed their pollen in early spring, but some species pollinate in the autumn.

Juniper pollen is very buoyant and is smaller and more allergenic than Pine pollen. A Juniper with berries (a female tree) will not produce pollen.

Allergens have been detected in Mountain Juniper wood and berry. No allergen was detected in the leaves, nor in smoke from burning male and female trees.

When feasible you can soak down the vegetation in your yard. This prevents the pollen from remaining airborne. Eliminate weeds in your yard. Replace heating and air conditioning filters often. These devices can cut down the pollen in the indoor environment. Wear a dust mask during peak pollen production periods. Wear sunglasses or prescription glasses to protect eyes. Stay inside on windy days. Pray for rain.

It is also possible to reduce the quantity of offending pollen in your immediate environment by not planting pollen-producing Junipers (or other plants that produce pollen to which you are allergic) in your landscape.

In the case of Juniper, it means that you should plant only female Junipers. Junipers are one of many types of plants that produce separate male and female plants. You can identify the female plants by their production of the berry-like cones.

Wise gardeners will purchase and plant junipers that are female plants (with cones). By planting only female plants in your landscape, you will at least not increase the concentration of juniper pollen near your personal living environment. There will be juniper pollen from the surrounding forest and from neighbors, but distance is your friend. As the pollen travels in the wind, it is diluted.

Dr. David B. Coutin M.D. of Allergy, Asthma Associates in Bend can be reached at 541/382-1221.
Allergy, Asthma Associates has over 15 years of pollen counting experience and they provide actual counts to KOHD and Bend Cable’s News station during the warmer months.  Please do not confuse the actual counts with “predicted counts” based on formulas using historical counts from other media outlets. Unfortunately, the AAAAI’s NAB website and other internet sites do not carry counts from Central Oregon which are very different than west of the Cascades.  Counts range from absent to very high, with even the least sensitized individual experiencing systems at very high counts.


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