Annual annoyance: Pollen paints the town yellow
June 20, 2007
Well known for epic annual snowfalls, it is late spring’s torrent of yellow pine tree pollen that lives in infamy among many who call the Lake Tahoe Basin home.
Even the heaviest dusting of pollen doesn’t require seemingly endless shoveling in sub-freezing temperatures, but the swirls of what looks like bright yellow dust are uniquely annoying.
“On Tuesday I got my car washed, and by the end of my work day it was blanketed by yellow pollen and I was hoarse,” Stateline resident Candi Rohr said on Wednesday.
Futile attempts at car washes aside, the ubiquitous pine pollen is frequently just a signal of the real culprits behind the sore throats and itchy eyes endured by many throughout the annual event.
“Yes, pine can be a true allergen for some; but often, it is a visible marker that occurs at the same time of year as a different pollen that is the source of the troublesome symptoms,” said Dr. Jeffrey Nugent of the Northern Nevada Allergy Clinic in Reno.
Most people suffering from spring allergies are susceptible to grasses, tumbleweed, curly dock, maple/boxelder, juniper, birch, oak, sycamore, cottonwood, among several others.
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Only a few people are allergic to pine pollen. The only way to know the difference is to take a skin test, he said.
“There are a few people for whom it is a dominant allergen,” Nugent said.
Pine pollen is not the primary allergen but can still irritate eyes, throats and lungs in the name of forest reproduction.
“The one reason you see this stuff is because the conifers, which includes both pine and fir trees, are wind-pollinated,” said David Fournier, vegetation planner with the U.S. Forest Service. “The predominant one would be the Jeffrey pine, but there’s a lot of overlap among the different species.”
At Fallen Leaf Lake the Hill family — David and Nicole, along with daughters Emmeline, Annelise and Kai — from Novato were fishing for crawdads at the docks near the general store. The shore was awash in pollen.
“We have hay fever allergies,” said Nicole Hill. “‘Tis the season.”
While many species will play a part, there is an end in sight.
“Since it was a pretty mild winter, it may be a little earlier, but I don’t think it’s off by that much,” Fournier said. “Generally it’s a one-month window.”
— Tanya Canino of the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza contributed to this report.