6 min read

How to navigate seasonal allergies in New Zealand

Spring can be a double-edged sword if you suffer from seasonal allergies. Your seasonal allergies may be worse in New Zealand than in other parts of the world.
By · June 24, 2024
How to navigate seasonal allergies in New Zealand

New Zealand is known for its beautiful scenery and access to the great outdoors. Most people look forward to the change from winter to spring as it means more sunny days and more time spent outside.

But spring can be a double-edged sword if you suffer from seasonal allergies. If you’re new to New Zealand, you may have noticed that your seasonal allergies are worse here than in other parts of the world.

Here’s what you should know about managing seasonal allergies in New Zealand.

Why are seasonal allergies worse in New Zealand?

Pollen is a common trigger of allergic rhinitis (what most people call seasonal allergies or hayfever).

Unfortunately for hay fever sufferers, New Zealand has a particularly potent mix of grasses, trees, and weeds that produce high pollen levels throughout the year.

Both native and introduced species of plants can produce a lot of pollen. Add in the fact that some places in New Zealand are very windy, and you have the perfect recipe for seasonal allergies.

How long is New Zealand’s allergy season?

New Zealand’s pollen season is much longer than in other parts of the world.In fact, May and June are two of the only months where pollen levels can be considered low by those who are very sensitive to pollen.

Pine trees usually drop yellow pollen at the end of winter and in early spring. However, the pollination season is fairly short. Grass pollination lasts for much longer.

Spring

Most allergy sufferers find Spring (September to November) the worst time of year for sneezing, itching eyes and running noses. This is because many of our trees produce high rates of pollen in the Spring.

At the same time, some species of weeds, like nettles and plantain have begun to produce pollen. In November, many species of grass are entering the pollen cycle, too.

Summer

November is one of the worst months for hay fever sufferers in New Zealand.

The start of summer can often bring a lot of relief as many pollen-producing trees have stopped producing pollen. However, weeds and grasses produce the most pollen in their cycles from December to February and there are still some trees like Pohutakawa, Rimu, Eucalyptus and Manuka that have just begun!

Autumn

By autumn, you should finally start to feel some relief. Most trees, weeds, and grasses produce zero to very little pollen between March and May.

Gorse is the only tree species that produces pollen throughout autumn while Olive trees and Pohutukawa and Rata finish their pollen cycle in March. Some weeds are still producing pollen in March. April, May and June are very low pollen months you can look forward to!

Winter

Many people think that winter is a great time for allergy sufferers. While most grasses and weeds don’t produce pollen during this time, a few culprits of trees can ruin it for everyone. Wattle, Macrocarpa, Pine, Gorse, Poplar and Elm trees start producing pollen again in July and August.

What plants produce the most pollen in New Zealand?

Birch

Birch trees don’t produce a lot of pollen, but some people are very sensitive to its pollen. In New Zealand, our birch trees are found mostly on the South Island. You’ll find birch forests in Central Otago and Southland, which favour cold temperatures and elevated areas. They produce pollen from September to Spring.

Gorse

Gorse is one of the most distinct and common pollinators in New Zealand. You’ll know this plant by its thick, prickly-looking branches and bright yellow flowers. While bees and other bugs love gorse, there are a few good reasons not to like this plant. Not only does gorse produce pollen for 8 months of the year, but it’s also a particularly invasive weed.

Grasses

Wild grasses can be pretty but often make hayfever sufferers feel the most miserable. Prairie grass, foxtail grass, ryegrass and tall fescue produce pollen from early August until late February and March. The pollen is at its worst from these plants around Christmas.

Macrocarpa

Macrocarpa pollen can be quite potent, affecting up to 30% of people who are tested against it. The plant, which is often used for hedges in rural New Zealand, produces pollen from July to February.

Olive trees

While usually associated with more Mediterranean climates, Olive trees are popular in New Zealand as our commercial olive industry grows. 750,000 trees around the country contribute to the pollen season from October to March. You’ll find olive trees in dry areas of the country like Canterbury, Nelson and Marlborough, Central Otago, Northland and the Kapiti Coast.

Pine Trees

Pine trees make up the majority of our planted forests in New Zealand (a whopping 80%). Unfortunately, every mature tree can produce around 1kg of pollen between July and September. Pine trees produce yellow pollen between July and September.

Plantain

Plantain is a weed often grown as pasture for dairy cows to feed on. While plantain produces much less pollen than a pine tree, their pollen season is much longer, lasting from September to March.

What symptoms do seasonal allergies cause in New Zealand?

With so many plants, flowers, weeds, trees and grasses producing pollen throughout the year, it’s no wonder that 30-40% of the nation suffers from seasonal allergies! If you are sensitive to allergies, you may want to prepare for:

Hay fever

Hay fever can cause itchy and watery eyes and a runny nose. The symptoms of hay fever are made more tolerable with oral or nasal antihistamines. While these are available over the counter, you can also get them prescribed at a discount from your doctor.

Eczema

Pollen, particularly from grasses, can cause eczema and grass rash. Eczema can be managed through over the counter topical creams.

Asthma

While New Zealand has lower pollution rates than many countries, our high pollen rates can make asthma worse. Asthma inhalers are available through your doctor and cost around $16.

If you suffer from seasonal allergies in New Zealand, visit your doctor. Healthcare is subsidised in New Zealand and treatment is largely affordable. If your symptoms aren’t manageable through over-the-counter medication, your doctor may refer you for an allergy test.

What to do if you suffer from allergies in New Zealand

There are things you can do to help combat allergy season in New Zealand.

  • Get an air purifier. These help clean pollen from the inside of your home and help minimise your symptoms.

  • Clean your heat pump filters at the start of each season. A clean heat pump filters air more effectively and minimises pollen and dust mites.

  • Keep windows and doors shut during high pollen days.

  • Check the pollen levels on metservice.co.nz and plan your day accordingly

  • Remove allergenic plants from your garden

  • Keep your grass mown. This helps keep grass pollen low

  • If you can, choose to spend time on the coast over areas inland, as the sea breeze usually blows pollen inland

  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from pollen when you are outdoors

  • Minimise time spent in high-pollen areas like golf courses, farms, parks or areas that aren’t mown or weeded regularly

  • Stay indoors in the morning - grass pollen is at its highest during the morning

  • Take advantage of the moments after the rain, as pollen is at its lowest

Where to seek help if you suffer from allergies in New Zealand

There are many excellent charities and organisations that can help you if need help with managing your seasonal allergies.

Asthma Foundation

asthmafoundation.org.nz

Asthma New Zealand

asthma.org.nz

Allergy New Zealand

www.allergy.org.nz

Eczema New Zealand

eczema.org.nz

Your GP (your primary doctor)

www.healthpoint.co.nz/gps

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