Allergies: A rite of spring - Part II

In the last article, we learned about triggers and testing for allergic rhinitis, and animal dander and dust mite avoidance measures. In this article, we will explore pollen avoidance measures.

Arizona is not a bad place to live for allergy sufferers!

In a survey that looked at the sales of over-the-counter allergy medications across the country, Phoenix ranked 50th. Atlanta ranked No. 1. Therefore, moving elsewhere may not be a viable option for allergy sufferers!

At the same time, you have to be aware of the following facts: In the early part of 20th century, many people from all over the country with respiratory problems moved to Arizona following their doctors' advice. They brought with them exotic plants, which thrive here thanks to our good climate. Unlike the Midwest, we do not have frost in the winter that usually reduces allergy level by killing plants. Our soil is also loose; the pollen gets airborne easily following high winds. For these reasons, we may be facing a bigger impact of allergies in Arizona than elsewhere.

Not all plants cause allergy

Pollens measure between 10 and 20 microns in size. Pollination involves transfer of pollens from flower to flower for reproduction. Most allergy-causing plants are wind pollinated (depend on wind for transferring pollen from flower to flower). Since wind pollination is not efficient, such plants have to produce large amounts of pollens in order to carry out pollination successfully. Sometimes, the wind can carry the pollens for hundreds of miles! This explains why you may suffer from grass or tree pollen allergy even though you may not have trees or grass in your backyard.

On the other hand, many ornate and fragrant flowers such as roses and orange blossoms are bee-pollinated. The honeybees transfer pollen from flower to flower very efficiently. Therefore, these plants do not have to produce pollen in large amounts. Hence, they are not important in causing allergies.

Beware of winds, thunderstorms

Particles less than 5 microns do not reach our lungs because of efficient filtration by our nostrils. The pollens are bigger than this. Researchers have found that pollens primarily affect nostrils in allergy sufferers and cause allergic inflammation (swelling) of the nostrils and sinuses. Eventually, this inflammation spills over and spreads to also affect the lungs.

This explains why at the height of pollen season, some allergy sufferers complain of tightness in their chest and difficulty breathing.

It is known that following thunderstorms, the pollens get fragmented into smaller particles (less than 5 microns) and this facilitates their entry into lungs to worsen asthma symptoms! It is also known that following Santa Ana winds in California, emergency room visits for asthma exacerbations go up.

What to do to escape pollens

Trees pollinate in the spring. Grasses pollinate longer - from spring through fall! Weeds, which are common in Kingman, pollinate mainly in the fall but can do so sporadically throughout the year depending on the weather. You can focus on the following measures if you happen to be allergic to pollen: avoid cutting grass, trimming trees or reducing weeds; let someone else who does not suffer from allergies do it for you. Do not dry clothes outside. They are excellent pollen traps! Minimize spending time outdoors during high pollen days. Wash your hair and shower before going to bed if you have spent long hours outdoors during spring and fall.

Keep your windows and doors closed and air-conditioning on. By doing this, you will save on medical expenses. Avoid evaporative coolers and use air-conditioners instead. Keep your car windows up, set air-circulation for inside and keep car air-conditioners on!

Do research online and talk to experts before you plant trees or grass in your yard. Select plants which are not allergy-causing. Overall, it is difficult to avoid pollen exposure, especially during spring and fall. You have to explore other options, which will be presented in the next article.

Natarajan Asokan, M.D., F.A.A.P. is a board-certified allergist and immunologist and a board-certified pediatrician with more than 25 years of experience as a physician and 10 years of experience as a practicing allergist and immunologist. He treats adults and children with various allergy and immunology problems. He can be reached at 1739 Beverly Ave., Suite 118, Kingman, AZ 86409, (928) 681-5800, or www.trinityallergy.com.