Allergies and Hay Fever - March 21, 2007
Jeff Schalau, Associate Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources, Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County
This spring, experts have measured the highest pollen counts they've seen in the last decade and allergists predict the spring of 2007 may prove to be a tough year for those that suffer from pollen allergies. This was probably brought about by a mild winter, an early spring and unusually warm days. Understanding allergies may not make you feel better, but there are some things that allergy sufferers can do to reduce the amount of pollen in their immediate environment and informational resources that can validate concerns as to what type of pollen is currently in the air.
Pollen allergies from plants that flower seasonally (usually spring or fall). Symptoms often include nasal stuffiness, runny nose, sneezing, itching in the nose and throat, itchy, watery red eyes, fatigue, and headache. According to the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, allergies affect at least 35% of the population and often need treatment to improve quality of life and reduce risk of complications.
Pollens are the tiny, egg-shaped male reproductive cells of flowering plants. Most pollen will become an allergen if a susceptible person is exposed to a sufficient quantity of it. Attractive, brightly colored flowers that are pollinated only by insects rarely cause allergy. Wind-pollinated plants produce comparatively huge quantities of pollen that become airborne easily and can travel 20 miles or more on a windy day. Pollen from all grasses, many weeds, junipers, pines, and most of the common deciduous trees are disseminated by wind. This problem has been made worse by the introduction of exotic species in our landscapes.
Our warmer-than-average spring has hastened the bloom of many allergy causing plants and we have many species that can cause allergies in our area. Local trees and shrubs that produce wind-borne pollen are: ash, cottonwood, olive, desert broom, hackberry, juniper, mesquite, mulberry, oak, pine, cypress, sycamore, salt cedar, pecan, black walnut, four-wing saltbush, and elm trees. Grasses are: bermudagrass, johnsongrass, and ryegrass. Annuals, perennials, and shrubs are: alfalfa, pigweed, cocklebur, lambsquarter, ragweed, and Russian thistle (tumbleweed). This is not an all-inclusive list, but it probably contains most of our worst allergenic pollen producers.
In an effort to reduce pollen originating from residential and commercial landscapes, Pima County (Tucson area) has enacted landscape codes that prohibit the sales of mulberry trees, and pollen producing olive tree varieties. In addition, common bermudagrass must be mowed regularly to reduce excessive flowering. If the owner does not maintain the turf, they will have it done for you and send you the bill. It should be noted that well-maintained and properly fertilized bermudagrass will produce few, if any, flowers. There are also sterile hybrid bermudagrasses that produce no pollen and must be propagated through vegetative means (sowing stolons rather than seed).
It is sometimes useful for allergy sufferers to know which pollen species are present at any given time. This is done by conducting a pollen count. Pollen counts measure the amount of airborne allergens present in the air at the time of sample collection. Counts are reported as grains per cubic meter of air. Certified aeroallergen counters at many universities, medical centers and clinics often provide these counts on a volunteer basis.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) has a network of pollen counters across the United States. Each counter works under the direction of an AAAAI member and must first pass an intensive certification course. Counters use air sampling equipment to capture air-borne pollens. Data from AAAAI can be accessed on the Internet at: www.aaaai.org. Arizona’s only cooperator is in Scottsdale. The Scottsdale site reported high concentrations of pollen from trees and the Los Alamos, NM and Las Vegas, NV sites both reported very high concentrations of pollen from trees. Additional information is also available from the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center Web Site at: www.peds.arizona.edu/allergyimmunology/southwest/. Finally, if allergies are getting the best of you, consider seeing and allergist or immunologist.
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension has publications and information on gardening and pest control. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener line in the Cottonwood office at 646-9113 ext. 14 or E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to include your address and phone number. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or submit column ideas at the Backyard Gardener web site: http://cals.arizona.edu/yavapai/anr/hort/byg/.
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