Once upon a time, Arizona was considered the Promised Land for allergy sufferers – a fabled place where noses never ran, eyes never watered and chests never congested. In fact, while newcomers may enjoy a brief respite from their allergies, one can never truly escape them. Between pollen, dust and pollution, there are plenty of allergens lurking in the desert. While allergies can and do manifest year round, the peak season is from March until May, so here is what you need to know.
What is an Allergy?
An allergy is a side effect of the immune system going into overdrive in response to an allergen being introduced to the body through the lungs, skin, eyes or mouth. The immune system releases histamines to counter the allergens. Histamines cause mucous membranes to swell, as well as a range of unpleasant symptoms.
• Stuffy or runny nose
• Itchy, watery eyes
• Itchy skin/rash/hives
• Itchy ears and sore throat
• Coughing, sneezing, congestion
• General fatigue
Common Allergy Triggers
• Seasonal pollen from ragweed, olive trees, weeds and grasses
• Seasonal dust from monsoon storms, dust devils, agriculture and construction
• Year round dust from dust mites, cockroaches, animal dander, mostly dry desert conditions
Who’s Most Likely to Have Seasonal Allergies?
Approximately one in three Arizonans experience some degree of allergic rhinitis (hay fever), and according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, nearly two-thirds of seasonal allergy sufferers actually experience symptoms year-round. Genetic background and environmental factors like air quality – a major concern in Arizona – can also predispose someone to having allergies.
First-born children: tend to suffer from seasonal allergies more often and more severely than their siblings. Women in perimenopause or menopause may also develop allergies or experience more severe symptoms. Low estrogen levels cause mucus membranes in the lungs and around the body to become thin and frail, so more allergens and infectious agents to enter through the dry, cracked layers and irritate the lungs and sinuses.
How to Minimize Exposure to Allergy Triggers
• Monitor pollen, mold counts and air-quality alerts in weather reports
• Stay indoors during windy days when pollen counts are highest
• Keep doors and windows shut at home or in the car during allergy season
• Take medication before bedtime so it’s in full force when you wake up
• Shower and change clothes after working or playing outdoors
• Wear a protective mask when doing yard work or other outdoor tasks
• Vacuum often – look for a machine with a HEPA filter system
• Clean using wet mops and dust cloths to minimize dust in the air
• Change your furnace/AC air filters frequently and use a HEPA filter
• Consider tile or hardwoods instead of carpets; launder throw rugs frequently
• Keep pets out of the bedroom and off of the bed to reduce dander
The Allergy Survival Kit
A good decongestant/antihistamine: available over the counter or by prescription. Best taken before bed so they’re in full force when you get up.
Hydrocortisone creams can help ease itching and irritation of hives or skin rashes.
Nasal sprays can help relieve congestion, sneezing and itchy nose, but should be used sparingly.
Severe allergy sufferers or asthmatics may also need an inhaler. The bronchodilators help open airways so you can breathe more freely.
Those at risk for anaphylactic shock should always carry an EpiPen® for the emergency treatment of life-threatening reactions to allergens like bee stings, nuts, shellfish, eggs and milk. Those at risk for this kind of reaction should always wear a Medic Alert bracelet.