There are about 600 species of oak trees throughout the world and some species live more than a hundred years. Oak trees are particularly widespread in the wooded coastal areas from Texas to Virginia and Florida. Oaks are often large trees, with long limbs and broad trunks. The most familiar feature of the oak is its fruit, the acorn. Oak trees pollinate through a long cluster of flowers called catkins. Catkins develop before any leaves on the tree, giving the tree a greater chance for pollination. Catkins dangle at the tips of branches. The wind blows and carries the pollen for miles. Oaks are considered a primary tree for allergy sufferers. The trees produce pollen from February to late May. Oak pollen will leave a distinctive yellow smudge on cars parked near the trees during the pollen season. Although oak trees are not heavy pollen producers, they can cause real seasonal suffering for people allergic to oak pollen because the trees have such a long period of pollen production. Mid April is the worst time for pollen sufferers since the pollen level is at its peak in April.
Pollen grains are tiny and easily spread when released into the air. The powdery grains are also easily inhaled. The pollen powder can also attach to clothes, shoes and hair. A person allergic to oak pollen will have an immune reaction to the pollen, treating it as a harmful substance. This chemical reaction involves the release of histamines resulting in various nasal congestion symptoms. Some individuals develop more serious asthma symptoms from oak pollen allergy. Any allergy to oak pollen is called seasonal allergic rhinitis since symptoms occur only during the pollen season.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, pollen from oak trees will be more intense in the early morning hours. Pollen sufferers can track the pollen count daily from various regional reporting stations so they can know when symptoms might worsen. Aside from medical treatment, doctors recommend staying indoors with the windows closed and air conditioning on to avoid contact with the pollen during the worst days. Changing clothes, removing shoes, and showering after being outside can also help to relieve symptoms.
The spring of 2012 has seen a real storm of sneezing for allergy sufferers in the South and Midwest. The drought in Texas, combined with a warm winter with few cold spells, caused plants to begin pollen production earlier than usual. Drought affects the pollen count because rainy weather tends to remove the pollen that floats in the air. Many plants will not release pollen in the rain. The Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic has measured pollen since the 1980’s. This year the clinic reported that the pollen counts in late March were higher than ever recorded.