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'Botanical sexism' is adding fuel to allergy sufferers' symptoms

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The Ogrens Plant Allergy Scale (OPALS) measures the potential for allergic reaction to common plants, trees and shrubs.

The number of people suffering from allergies has increased. The cause is partly man-made and related to male trees.

In the U.S., the CDC estimates 60 million people per year suffer from allergic rhinitis or hay fever.

Allergist and horticulture experts agree that since about the 1980s, there's been a rise in the number of patients suffering from seasonal allergies.

Warmer conditions are one factor for the increase, but horticulturist Tom Ogren also points to "botanical sexism," or the intentional planting of male trees in urban landscapes.

After Dutch Elm disease swept across the country, new trees were planted. This provided the opportunity to replace the female of species that produces fruit, flowers and seedpod litter. With the male trees, however, comes a reason for sneezing and itchy, watery eyes – pollen.

Allergist and immunologist, Dr. Haroon Khalid recommends allergy sufferers speak with a medical professional for treatment to ease their symptoms.

Ogren says a change to your lawn can help by replacing pollen-producing male grass with seed-producing female grass.

"I advise people to cocoon themselves," with female shrubs and trees, the horticulturist suggested.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9 a.m., my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. My email is steve@kcur.org.
Elizabeth Ruiz is a freelance producer for KCUR’s Up To Date. Contact her at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz
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