With wetter summer, allergy season hits earlier and harder

With wetter summer, allergy season hits earlier and harder

Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2014 5:00 pm |Updated: 12:38 am, Fri Aug 22, 2014.

It’s another sneezing, itchy eyes and runny nose season. And this time it’s hitting the Santa Fe area a little earlier than usual, probably because of heavy rains over the last few weeks that promoted the growth of grasses, the chief culprit in late August and September.

The pollen count reported by Southwestern Ear, Nose & Throat Associates was low for weeds for the 24 hours ending at 8 a.m. Thursday but “very high” for grasses. In fact, the count for grasses jumped from 12 grains per cubic meter to 20 in one day.

The Santa Fe allergy clinic, which has a pollen counter on its roof, reported 8 grains per cubic meter for chenopods (pigweed, lambs quarters, wingscale and Russian thistle), up from 7 the previous day.

But the numbers don’t really mean anything unless you are allergic to a particular pollen.

“There’s a little something for everybody,” said Ken Hunt, chief pollen counter for Southwestern Ear, Nose & Throat. “And I think things are going to be getting worse. In Albuquerque, their weeds are off the charts, and they are a couple of weeks ahead of us.”

Allergies, or allergic rhinitis, which so many are experiencing now, are caused by an oversensitive immune system. When it mistakes something like weed or grass pollen as a threat, an allergy results. Trees, such as juniper, are the problem in the spring; grasses and weeds at this time of year.

Goldenrod and chamisa get a bad rap, said Bob Pennington, president of the Agua Fría Nursery, but “they are totally innocent.”

Not only are they bright yellow, which attracts all kinds of pollinators, but they stink, which also attracts the bees, bats, birds and moths.

“The things that depend on wind are the bad guys,” Pennington said. “Flowers are innocent.”

Or at least the ones that are visible. “If you can see the flower, it’s being pollinated by insects, and their pollen stays put,” Pennington said.

That goes for those yellow flowers like golden crownbeard, which look suspicious to the sneezing and watery-eyed but is normally not a problem.

At this time of year, the allergy clinic at Southwestern Ear, Nose & Throat is busy treating allergy sufferers.

The number of patients has increased since the middle of last week said Cindy Lorett, the allergy coordinator. “Patients are asking what’s out there and having more symptoms.”

And people in the immunotherapy program who are getting regular shots [weekly over three to five years] say they are “a little better this time around,” Lorett said.

Besides immunotherapy, other treatments are available. Some seasonal allergy sufferers can successfully manage their symptoms with antihistamines or nasal corticosteroids.

Those with severe reactions, especially during juniper season, can get an injection of a steroid called triamcinolone, often sold under the brand name Kenalog, that covers the symptoms for a couple of weeks.

Hunt said some people even go away to Mexico. One of his patients decamps to her house in Palm Springs, Calif., when juniper is in bloom.

But there are lots of other things people can do to reduce their exposure. Experts recommend showering before bedtime, or at least washing your face and hands, and shampooing or wiping off your hair. People who have seasonal allergies also should wash their pillowcases regularly, drink lots of water and wipe off animals when they come inside, Lorett said. Hanging laundry out to dry in the sun usually isn’t a good idea for many people.

And when the allergy count is really high, some people should stay inside with the windows closed.

But seasonal allergies, Lorett said, are just “part of living in New Mexico.”

Contact Anne Constable at 986-3022 or aconstable@sfnewmexican.com.