Springtime is misery time for anyone with pollen allergies. Grasses, ragweed and pigweed may be the chief causes of hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, but big wind-pollinated shade trees make their contribution, as well. You may suffer as early as January if you’re allergic to pollen from juniper, cypress, sequoia and other trees in the same family that can release their pollen early. Juniper trees and shrubs also can cause allergic skin rashes if you come in contact with their sap.
Juniper and related trees in the cedar family are notorious for producing pollen allergies, especially in regions where junipers are widely distributed as part of the native plant community. Allergic reactions are caused by an overactive immune system response to pollen, dust, or molds, usually resulting in sneezing, runny noses and red, itchy and watery eyes. An asthma attack triggered by juniper pollen causes shortness of breath and wheezing. The sap of juniper stems contain calcium oxalate, microscopic crystals that may immediately cause irritation and burning when they touch the skin.
Selecting shade trees and landscape shrubs that are insect-pollinated – rather than wind-pollinated – is one way to reduce the overall amount of pollen near your home or business. If it’s important to grow junipers, one strategy to minimize pollen exposure is to grow only female junipers, or those plants that produce the berry-like cones. Only male plants produce the nearly invisible pollen cones. Once junipers begin producing cones, it’s easy to identify female plants. Plant only these, and you’ll greatly reduce the quantity of juniper pollen near your home, which will reduce your exposure.
Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and gloves when pruning or otherwise working with juniper. Minimize exposure to juniper pollen by staying indoors on dry, windy days – when pollen really flies – and delegating outdoor chores during juniper pollen season or at least wearing a dust mask. Remove clothes you’ve worn outdoors and shower immediately to remove pollen from your hair and skin. Refrain from drying laundry outdoors, at least temporarily. When pollen counts are high, keep doors and windows closed and use your air conditioner. Use high-efficiency filters and consider a high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filter for your bedroom. Avoid outdoor exercise or activity in the morning, when pollen counts are highest.
Nasal irrigation, or rinsing out your nasal passages with salt water, is a drug-free approach for easing symptoms, directly flushing mucus and pollen from your nose. If you opt for medication, start taking it early, when pollen counts are forecast to be high. Effective over-the-counter treatments include newer oral antihistamines that don’t cause drowsiness, such as loratadine and cetirizine. Older antihistamines are effective, too, but often cause drowsiness. Decongestants such as pseudoephedrine can relieve nasal stuffiness. Products combining antihistamines with decongestants are easiest for most people. Your doctor can prescribe medications and even desensitization therapy. Steroidal creams and medications are one option for allergic skin reactions to juniper sap, but another is the old-time non-steroidal rash medication hydroxyzine. Antihistamine lotions and various home remedies may be worth trying first.