Brutal allergy season ahead: Here's what you need to know to not be miserable

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- We've enjoyed an especially warm winter, but those glorious temperatures we love have a downside. They make for a brutal allergy season.

People are already suffering, and doctors believe it's going to get worse as we get into late winter and early spring.

Blame the warm and dry weather. We haven't seen any rain in 39 days and it doesn't look like there is any in our immediate future.

Allergies can cause health problems

* Anaphylaxis. If you have severe allergies, you're at increased risk of this serious allergy-induced reaction. Anaphylaxis is most commonly associated with food allergy, penicillin allergy and allergy to insect venom.

* Another allergy. Having one type of allergy also increases your risk of becoming allergic to something else.

* Asthma. If you have an allergy, you're more likely to have asthma - an immune system reaction that affects the airways and breathing. In many cases, asthma is triggered by exposure to an allergen in the environment (allergy-induced asthma).

* Atopic dermatitis (eczema), sinusitis, and infections of the ears or lungs. Your risk of getting these conditions is higher if you have hay fever, a pet allergy or a mold allergy.

* Fungal complications of your sinuses or your lungs. You're at increased risk of getting these conditions, known as allergic fungal sinusitis and allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis, if you're allergic to mold.

Exercising with allergies

The key to exercising outdoors with allergies is to be prepared. Here's a quick checklist of things that anyone with allergies should know.

Check your calendar. Pollen seasons are predictable, although they might vary by a few days from year to year. So if you know that you're allergic to ragweed or  other outdoor allergens, find out when the season starts in your area. Once you know, you can prepare.

Check the weather.  Information about your local pollen level is available on the Internet or in your local paper. If pollen counts are supposed to be particularly high on a given day, you can play it safe by staying inside. In general, pollen counts are highest on warm and breezy mornings and low on cool and rainy days.

You should also pay attention to the levels of ozone and other pollutants, since they're common irritants for people with allergies. Exhaust from cars and trucks can also cause problems for people with allergies, especially if you live in a city or exercise along a busy road. On high pollution days, you could take a pass on your usual exercise outdoors.

Choose the right time of day. According to many experts, the time of day you choose for outdoor exercise matters. If you can, exercise in the morning or late in the evening. Most pollens reach peak levels around noon or early afternoon.

Sometimes, opt for less intense activities.

If the pollen count or pollution levels are high, skip your usual jog or bike ride and choose a less intense form of exercise. Why? The more stressful the exercise, the faster you breathe; the faster you breathe, the more allergens and irritants you inhale. So instead, do stretching exercises, or yoga, or weight training indoors. Any of them will give you a workout without increasing your risk of allergy symptoms.

Bundle up in the cold. Cold weather is a common irritant for people with sensitive airways such as asthma and allergies. So if you're exercising outdoors on a cold day, cover your mouth and nose with a scarf to help warm the air before it gets into your lungs or talk to your provider about pre-treating with your rescue inhaler prior to exercise. If you have asthma - it is important to keep your rescue inhaler with you at all times during exercise.

Change your clothes and shower after outdoor exercise.

During pollen season, your clothing and hair could be covered with pollen.  So when you get home, it's not a bad idea to strip off your clothes and toss them in the laundry. You could also take a shower to rinse off any allergen left on your skin or in your hair.

What causes allergies?

Most allergies caused by pollen arise with trees, grasses and weeds that are growing in Arizona.

Our growing season here is all year, so allergies never seem to stop since we do not have low enough freezing temperatures to cause plants to become dormant and not pollinate year round. For example, ragweed is one of the most common allergy-causing plants in the United States and unfortunately in the greater Phoenix we have over a dozen native species of ragweed.

Are there differences in allergies by season?

* Trees pollinate in late winter and spring. Ash, beech, birch, cedar, cottonwood, box, elder, elm, hickory, maple and oak pollen can trigger allergies.

* Grasses pollinate in late spring and summer. Those that cause allergic reactions include Kentucky bluegrass, timothy, Johnson, Bermuda, redtop, orchard, rye and sweet vernal grasses.

* Weeds pollinate in late summer and fall. The weed that causes 75 percent of all hay fever is ragweed which has numerous species. is a good source to check levels of pollen and learn what is blooming in your area. You can search by city or your ZIP code.

Limit outdoor activity during pollination periods when the pollen or mold count is high. This will lessen the amount you inhale.

New treatments on the horizon

On the horizon there is currently an FDA advisory committee is considering whether to approve two respiratory allergy drugs that are already available in Europe. The new drugs will work in a similar way as allergy shots - building tolerance to allergens - but they'll come in either a daily-dose pill or oral drop form. So, potentially, no more needles. An advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration are currently reviewing this option.

If they are approved in the United States, they could make this type of therapy more broadly available, by allowing people to treat themselves at home rather than going for frequent shots. Children, who tend not to like needles, might also find such treatment more acceptable. Approval would also deliver some extra credibility to this type of therapy, which aims to fundamentally alter the immune system.
Another study is being done by Danish researchers who are now testing a new method for treating pollen-allergic patients.

The new method works by the patient receiving an injection into the groin where the lymph nodes are. The injection contains allergens, which are substances that can cause allergic reactions.

The patient will receive three injections over a two-month period, which should help the patient feel significantly better over the next three years.

This route is much simpler and quicker than with the existing methods, where patients get weekly injections over a 16-week period and then once every 6-8 weeks for 3-5 years.

Current treatment options:

If oral or nasal spray medications does not manage the child's allergy symptoms, injections may be recommended by an allergist. Immunotherapy (injections) is only recommended for specific allergies, such as allergies to things you might breathe in (like pollen, pet dander, or dust mites) or insect allergies. People are still getting these shots to help build up antibodies that fight the allergies. Although the shots don't cure allergies, they help raise a person's tolerance when exposed to the allergen, which means fewer or less severe symptoms.


Pollen counts are usually higher in the early morning and late afternoon. Pollen counts also increases on warm, dry, breezy days and are lowest when wet and chilly outside. It is best to check the local weather report pollen counts when planning outdoor activities.

Since it is dry and doesn't rain very often, it can be extremely dusty here in the Valley. There's agriculture and development, highway construction, and driving on unpaved lots -- all of which kick up a lot of dust. Vacant lands are also covered with dust. During monsoon and other times in the year- we have dust storms/haboobs.

For people with allergies, this is not good news. Dust can certainly have an effect on your respiratory system, especially if you have asthma. There also is dust-related allergies. Dust mites eat the microscopic skin dander found on people and animals, then leave droppings. Even a clean home can have dust mites. The inhaling of dust mite droppings may produce allergic reactions. The humidity on the Phoenix area is usually pretty low, which is a good thing because dust mites thrive in higher humidity. If you use an evaporative cooler, be aware that you are creating moisture in which dust mites like to live.

If you have allergies to dust, here are some tips to reduce dust inside your home.

  • Vacuum often. Get a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter system
  • Use wet mops and wet dust cloths, never dry ones.
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom, and certainly off the bed.
  • Cover pillows, mattress and box springs with dust-proof casings.
  • Reduce the amount of carpet in the house. Use throw rugs that can be regularly washed and dried.
  • Don't use feather pillows or comforters.

The message here is clean, clean, clean!

But that's not all.

  • Take your prescribed medications regularly.
  • Cut the lawn once a week.
  • Remove weeds that grow.
  • If you have moderate or severe allergy to pollen, wear a dust/pollen mask (obtainable in pharmacies) when working outdoors.
  • Stay indoors during windy weather.
  • Find out what you are allergic too - request from your care provider a skin or blood test or referral to allergist
  • Add desert landscaping to your yard vs. planting trees and grass