ST. GEORGE – After heavy winter rains and a quick jump to warm temperatures, Southern Utah is experiencing the worst allergy season in a decade.
Because of the rain and above-normal temperatures, all of the area tree species are pollinating at the same time, Dr. Kenneth Pinna, of Southwest Allergy and Asthma, said.
“I think this is one of the worst seasons we’ve had in 10 years,” Pinna said. “It’s bad out there right now.”
“That’s called, in the allergy world, a microburst, where a whole bunch of trees are all pollinating at the exact same time.”
Normally trees will pollinate in a progression as temperatures warm up throughout the spring. However, two weeks of 80-degree temperatures along with dry and dusty conditions have allergy sufferers feeling wretched.
“The misery index is 10 out of 10,” he said. “We’re at the worst one in 10 years.”
Allergy symptoms typically include a runny nose, congestion and itchy eyes but can also include asthma, sinusitis that can lead to infection, itchy ears and throat as well as eczema flareups.
“We’re seeing a lot of patients that have some of the worst allergy symptoms that you can get,” Pinna said. “They’ve got asthma attacks, can’t see, their eyes are watering, severe nasal congestion, sinusitis, rashes.”
Pinna’s office is working extra hours and an extra day of the week to handle the roughly 20 percent increase in patient visits over last year.
While the word “pollen” conjures images of flowers, the most bothersome allergens come from windborne pollen produced by trees, grasses and weeds, Pinna said previously.
In Las Vegas, tree pollen and weeds are at very high concentrations; weeds are high as well, as reported by the National Allergy Bureau Pollen and Mold Report which is a service of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
The top three pollen-producing trees in Las Vegas right now are mulberry, pine and olive; in the weed category, ragweed and Russian thistle, or tumbleweed, are high.
In Southern Utah, Pinna believes it is primarily trees that are causing the problem right now; the top offenders are mulberry, juniper and elm trees.
“Then again, we don’t have official pollen counts in St. George,” Pinna said. “I would say that this weather will make an early summer season, also. Especially if we get more rain, we’re going to have a heavy summer allergy season, too.”
Mark Hodges, degreed arborist and former member of the St. George Shade Tree Board, told St. George News previously that mulberry and ash trees are the biggest pollen-producing trees in the St. George area.
Urban foresters have been planting male trees because they don’t bear fruit – and male trees produce the pollen, he said. In St. George, the urban forest now consists of 12 percent mulberry trees, almost all of which are male.
The most important thing to help reduce allergy symptoms is simple avoidance. The first step is to keep bedroom windows closed, Pinna said.
“Pollinating your bedroom is a bad idea,” he said.
Allergy sufferers should also shower before going to bed if they’ve been outside to avoid getting pollen on their pillows.
The first thing most people try for alleviating allergy symptoms is an over-the-counter antihistamine; Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra are now available without a prescription.
“Those are the old standbys and that’s what we’ve been recommending,” Stapley Pharmacy staff pharmacist David Sorensen said. “Some work better (than others), depending on the person.”
If an antihistamine isn’t helping enough, Sorensen recommends trying an over-the-counter steroid nasal spray.
“If the antihistamines aren’t quite doing it and you still have a little bit of congestion, then you can try a nasal steroid,” Sorensen said.
If you are still suffering, you should see a doctor, Pinna said.
For people that know they have seasonal allergies, Sorensen recommends starting an antihistamine a few days before symptoms start.
“Prevention works best,” he said. “They can start taking it now because it’s starting to bloom.”
Until recently, allergy shots were the only immunotherapy approved by the Food and Drug Administration to desensitize patients to pollen and dander. Now, however, sublingual tablets that provide immunotherapy are available, Pinna said, but only for grass and ragweed allergies. Tablets for dust mites and cats are on the way.
Traditional allergy shots can be customized to a patient’s individual allergens and are given once a week for some time and then once a month. The results can be up to 75 percent effective; and after three years, there is a 60 percent rate of permanent desensitization.
Nasal decongestion sprays such as Afrin should never be used for seasonal allergies, Pinna said, because they cause dependence and rebound congestion.
And if what is thought to be a seasonal allergy lasts all year, make an appointment to see a doctor because it could be another condition.
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