When a person with seasonal allergies comes in contact with pollen, his or her immune system releases chemicals called histamines to combat the allergens. Histamines are behind hay fever symptoms, including sneezing, headache, runny nose and watery eyes. Tree pollen in early spring and grass pollen in the summer can make this time of year particularly uncomfortable.
Each year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) releases a list of the top 100 worst cities for people with spring allergies. The list is based on a pollen score (that takes into account recorded grass, tree and weed pollen and mold spores for the most recent spring season) and the number of local allergy specialists in the area and allergy medications used per patient.
It's no surprise southeastern cities usually dominate the top of the list because oak, maple and elm trees are the primary pollen culprits in this region during spring.
Geography and weather play important roles in seasonal allergies. In southern regions, where the growing season starts early in the year, spring allergies can begin in January.
Dry and windy weather is especially hard on people with spring allergies because these conditions are ideal for pollen and mold dispersal. Rainy and humid conditions, by contrast, dampen pollen and reduce exposure by making it less airborne.
Although AAFA doesn't identify the best cities for people with spring allergies, in 2012, San Diego and Portland, Or., were ranked better than average compared with other cities on the list.
Should you pack up and move to Portland if you have spring allergies? Probably not, says Waldron. Whether you’ll be uncomfortable for a big chunk of the year living in a city at the top of the list depends on your exact allergy and whether you can reduce your exposure to it.
A good first step is to visit an allergist for a skin or blood test to determine the causes or "triggers" of your allergic reaction. For tips on how to lessen your exposure during peak pollen times, read "10 Tips for Managing Spring Allergies."
Here, the cities at the top of AAFA’s Spring Allergy Capitals list for 2013:
10 Tips for Managing Spring Allergies
Here's how to minimize your exposure when pollen counts are high.
- Drive with your car windows closed.
- When at home, keep windows and outside doors shut. If you have air conditioning, use it. Both central and room air conditioning units have filters that effectively reduce your exposure.
- After you've been outdoors, wash your hands to reduce the amount of pollen you transfer from your hands to your eyes or nose.
- Keep pets that spend time outdoors out of the bedroom.
- Stay inside during the peak pollen hours of 5 to 10 a.m.
- After you’ve been outdoors, consider changing clothes or taking a shower to remove pollen.
- Dry laundry in a dryer; avoid hanging clothes outside to dry.
- Exercise indoors or enjoy outdoor activities after a sustained rain, when pollen counts are low.
- When outside, wear glasses or sunglasses to reduce the amount of pollen that gets in your eyes.
- Some allergy medications may work best if taken throughout the pollen season and before allergen exposure rather than intermittently. Consult your physician to learn what might work best for you.
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