With spring allergy season underway in Arizona, residents of Phoenix, Tucson and state towns and cities are bracing for yet another all-out assault from pollen, dust and other assorted allergens. The 2015 allergy season in Arizona was brutal, and the 2016 season looks like another tough year for everyone that suffers from allergies.
Many reasons contribute to Arizona’s allergic infamy. We’ll look at how Arizona transformed into the country’s most notorious allergy center, which environmental factors to be aware of, and also some different ways to lessen symptoms.
From Allergy-Free Retreat to Allergy Capital of the U.S.: How Did We Get Here?
Allergies are a big problem for most of the United States, but symptoms are amplified in Phoenix, Tucson and surrounding areas. Arizona, more than any other state, has a quite complicated relationship with allergies. Strangely enough, Phoenix, Tucson and other Arizona regions were once regarded as the best place in the United States for allergy sufferers. And for good reason; for allergy patients, the state’s dry, hot climate and relatively low pollen count held promise for a better life. Usually, semi-desert areas are ideal for reducing allergy symptoms. With minimal vegetation and low moisture, arid locations like Arizona enjoy a near-perfect, anti-pollen atmosphere.
But the allergy-free environment didn’t last forever. Arizona’s warm climate attracted people from all over the United States. Soon, urban sprawl joined the sand dune, sun and cactus as a permanent part of the Arizona landscape. And with the population boom, more and more parts of Arizona (particularly in Tucson and Phoenix) became “green” – more lawns, more yards and more landscaping.
Suddenly, the Arizona air was packed with pollen – and that was bad news for allergy patients. Add the often gusty winds to the equation – pollen particles can travel up to 400 miles in a single day, according to Dr. Duane Wong of the Arizona Allergy Associates – and it’s easy to see why Arizona went from not even on the allergy map to the allergy capital of the United States.
In a widely discussed article in 2011, Phoenix was crowned one of the “allergy capitals of the country.” Phoenix’s place atop the list was mostly due to a “ragweed sensitization rate of 29.3, more than double the normal level of ragweed pollen in the air throughout the United States.
To make matters worse, Arizona cities like Phoenix and Tucson are also subject to “valley fever,” which causes allergic reactions to a specific soil-borne fungus. Valley fever occurs in only a few states, with Arizona the most prominent.
Arizona Allergies: Environmental Factors
Arizona’s abundant allergens – thanks to the population growth mentioned earlier – include a diverse and wide-ranging source of pollen from different trees, bushes and other plants (and also the soil underneath, thanks to valley fever), from both man-made landscapes and also natural vegetation.
The most influential catalyst for allergic symptoms, aside from the wind and new-found pollen sources in Arizona and Tucson, is ragweed. This plant is responsible for up to half of all allergic reactions in the United States, and nearly 20 species of ragweed are present in Arizona, including areas in and around Phoenix and Tucson. The desert ragweed species is known to produce pollen on a year-round basis, unlike other plants which only flower in the spring and summer.
The ragweed distribution in Arizona is bad enough for allergy sufferers, but a host of other plants and trees contribute to the state’s near-unbearable pollen levels.
- Arizona Ash tree – this tree requires plenty of water, so it’s less common in newer communities in Arizona. But more established neighborhoods in Tucson and Phoenix have Arizona Ash trees.
- Olive tree – one of the most popular “new” trees to Arizona – introduced in large numbers during the population explosion of the 1980s and 1990s – the olive tree produces more pollen than almost any other tree. Both Phoenix and Tucson discourage planting any new olive trees, a policy that has remained in place for the past 40 years.
- Mulberry tree – no single tree is responsible for the phenomenal rise of pollen in Phoenix and Tucson over the past few generations. But if one tree could be singled out, it would be the Mulberry. This tree was planted all over Phoenix and Tucson in years past, but present-day restrictions have prevented further Mulberry cultivation.
- Various weeds and grasses – Russian thistle, Bermuda grass and Australian saltbush contribute to Arizona’s heavy spring and summer pollen levels. Many of Arizona’s weeds and grasses are transplants from other regions, but three native plants have always been a thorn in the side of allergy sufferers in Phoenix and Tucson: triangle leaf bursage, desert broom and mesquite.
Tips for Managing Allergies in Phoenix, Tucson and Greater Arizona
“Arizona nose” refers to the painful, often chronic symptoms of allergies in the state: a pounding headache, sinus drainage, congestion, persistent coughing, runny nose and more. Unfortunately, allergies can’t be totally prevented, but you can limit your outdoor exposure to pollen and dust, which can help.
Immediate relief isn’t always available, but there are some things you can do to help reduce your exposure to pollen. Try these:
- Keep pets out of your bedroom. Dander from pet hair and fur can set off symptoms within a matter of seconds. Alternatively, you can also brush your pet more often to eliminate dander.
- Filter duct outlets. Simple cheesecloth can be an effective method. Any type of filter will capture excess pollen and dust.
- Shut the windows. Keep your windows closed, especially at night when you’re sleeping. Even a slight opening will allow pollen to creep inside your home.
- Vacuum smart. Specifically, make sure you vacuum cleaner has a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arresting) filter, which works better than traditional vacuum filters at trapping allergy-causing dust.
- Visit your doctor. If symptoms have become unbearable, the physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals at Urgent Care Extra can assist right away.
Urgent Care Extra, Arizona’s leading network of walk-in medical clinics, is in your corner when it comes to allergies in the Grand Canyon State. When allergy symptoms are too tough to deal with, stop by one of our urgent care clinics in Arizona. With dozens of healthcare facilities across the state, we’re ready to help you find relief as quickly as possible. Our allergy treatment program includes over-the-counter medications, individual, custom-tailored tips and tricks to help reduce symptoms and much more!
Walk right in and experience allergy relief today. Click here to find an Urgent Care Extra clinic near you. To speak with one of our healthcare specialists about allergies, valley fever or other seasonal ailments, visit one of our medical facilities or call us at (480) 988-9108. We’d love to help you today!