Spring is here, prompting most of us to head outdoors for a walk or to enjoy some sunshine. But for many who live in a place where the wind comes sweeping down the plains, the end of winter often means the beginning of allergy season.
“Your eyes are watering, your nose is stuffy and it’s hard to breathe,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “Why? The answer is simple: It’s all the pollen in the air this time of year.”
In new figures for 2015, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ranked Oklahoma City No. 3 on its list of worst cities for spring allergies. Tulsa also made the top 15, ranking 12th.
Oklahoma’s notorious winds play a big part in the sniffling and sneezing. When the breeze picks up at this time of year—March and April are historically the state’s windiest months—it carries with it a big batch of pollen from trees, weeds and grasses.
“Pollen is a fine powder that male plants produce in the spring to fertilize female plants,” said Prescott, a physician and researcher. “For many people, breathing in these microspores doesn’t cause any difficulties.”
According to OMRF immunologist Hal Scofield, M.D., allergies are a product of a confused immune system. “If you have allergies, when your body senses a harmless substance like pollen, it thinks it’s found a dangerous intruder,” he said.
In response to this perceived threat, the immune system creates antibodies to bind to the pollen and sweep it out of the system. The reaction triggers the body’s releases of compounds called histamines, which trigger allergy symptoms such as constricted airways, watery eyes and runny noses.
“The whole process is a bit like trying to shoo a fly away with a rifle,” said Scofield. “Sure, it works to get rid of the pollen, but it’s kind of overkill.”
Allergies can make you feel miserable, but do they actually pose a threat?
“Unless you have severe asthma, they’re really more of a nuisance than anything,” said Prescott.
Still, the general discomfort and distraction can disrupt daily activities and detract from quality of life. And treatments like antihistamines can be just as disruptive, often causing drowsiness and mental impairment.
“You want to find an allergy medication that strikes the balance between preventing sneezing and congestion without causing disorientation,” said Scofield. He also suggests keeping outdoor activities to a minimum.
In addition, Prescott recommends making sure the air in your house is filtered through an air conditioning system or similar device.
“If none of that helps, consider seeing an allergist to seek out a more extensive therapy,” Prescott said. “Oh, and if you have to go outside, try to wait until the wind dies down.” Of course, he said, “That might not happen until June.”