TWIN FALLS — April showers bring May flowers, but May flowers, grasses and brush bring itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing and runny noses.
And allergy sufferers can expect to be more miserable as the spring turns into summer.
“It’s spring, so every spring here in Twin Falls we see an increase in people with allergies,” said Dr. Russell Mayes, an ear, nose and throat specialist at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center. “After winter we get the trees and all the pollen starting up again. We had a large of amount of moisture so we can definitely see a difference in the severity of springtime allergies.”
Feeling miserable? Then you are probably allergic to grasses and trees, which are starting to pollinate.
Dr. Greg Wickern, allergy specialist with Asthma & Allergy of Idaho, said south-central Idaho has two major pollen seasons — natural grasses and sagebrush.
“We have grass season that begins in May to early June and then goes for two and a half months,” Wickern said. “There are lot of miserable people in southern Idaho from now until end of July.”
But if you happen to have a sagebrush allergy, don’t expect relief in August.
The middle to the end of August is when the sagebrush begins to pollinate, ending in October.
“Sagebrush releases pollen when it blooms,” Mayes said. “Lots of people have sagebrush allergies.”
Did your allergies start in March and April? You might be allergic to trees like birch and pine species.
Some trees discharge pollen in such a high volume you can see the yellow dust, but most pollen you cannot see.
Wickern said tree pollen is not as bad in south-central Idaho as grass pollen. That’s because there is more grass and fewer trees.
“Grass pollination is dependent on how much moisture we get,” he said. “It’s not high yet. We are still on the tail end of tree season. We expect grass will be a plentiful.”
What could stop grass season?
Hope for hot weather and fast. Less moisture means grass will brown and die.
“Trees are still the dominant allergen,” Wickern said. “We counted 278 pollen grains today and of them 260 were from trees and 18 were from grass.”
What are allergies?
Mayes said allergies are our immune system’s response to triggers such as pollen. Histamines are the chemicals our immune system makes to get those allergens out of our body. Antihistamine medications work because they are blocking that chemical at the cellular level.
Can people develop allergies later in life?
Mayes said people can develop allergies at any age.
“It’s not uncommon for patients to say I have been living here 20 to 30 years and now I suddenly I have issues,” he said. “You have to be exposed to something to have an allergy to it. You aren’t just born allergic to dogs. You have to be exposed to it.”
Maybe one year a person isn’t exposed to an allergen and the next year there is a high pollen count and they start developing symptoms, Mayes said.
How can allergies be treated?
“In my practice I always look for the easiest approach that gives people the best systematic relief,” Mayes said.
Sometimes a simple over the counter antihistamine is the cure. He also recommends nasal steroid sprays, which were once available by prescription only. Now they are sold over-the-counter.
When the over-the-counter fails, there are prescription medications to try. But if prescribed medication fails and symptoms become worse, then allergy testing and immunotherapy can be used to treat allergies at the immune system level. Immunotherapy is when people are exposed to what they are allergic to a little at a time.
“That’s when people say they are on allergy shots or drops,” Mayes said. “They are trying to alter their body’s immune systems so their body doesn’t look at them as something to be allergic to.”
One of the main reasons to allergy test, Mayes said, is not only failure of treatment but also knowing what life decisions to make.
It lets patients know whether they need to move, cut down the Russian olive tree in the yard or decide on a family pet.
Can allergies trigger asthma?
Mayes said asthma can be triggered by allergies. Air quality can also come into play with both asthma and allergies.
“Luckily with Twin Falls, it’s not like we are in an industrial area where there is a lot of smog,” Mayes said. “But what we do have unique to this area is the agriculture and dairy worlds. It’s not uncommon for me to see patients that have symptoms of allergies but when we do treatments and testing they don’t have positive tests. In cases of that there has to be some chemical or some other environmental exposure causing these peoples symptoms.”
Asthma or allergy-like reactions can occur from something in the area that’s not being controlled by the immune system.
“By definition, allergies are a immune response,” Mayes said. “A chemical or perfume could cause the same response.”
What other steps can I take to alleviate allergies?
Take a shower before you climb into bed to rinse pollen off your body.
If you have air conditioning, use it. Pollen will fly into open windows.
Do not air dry your clothing outside.
Set your car air conditioner to recirculate to minimize pollen and drive with your windows up.
Advice for allergy sufferers?
“Tell people they don’t have to be miserable,” Wickern said. “There are a lot of folks who assume that there is not much you can do. You just have to tough it out. Between well chosen medication and allergy vaccines, people can breath through their nose and breath without coughing or fatigue.”