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What are the Most Common Desert Allergens in Arizona?

What are the Most Common Desert Allergens in Arizona?

It’s estimated that allergies affect at least 30 percent of the U.S. population, which translates to roughly 50 million people. If you are one of those millions, you know how uncomfortable, miserable, and downright dangerous allergies can potentially be.

Updated June 2019

Whether it’s hay fever, asthma, or more dangerous allergies that can lead to anaphylaxis, it’s important to work with your doctor or allergist to keep your symptoms managed and under control. This holds true no matter where you live; some people erroneously believe that living in a desert climate means they will no longer suffer from allergies. This may be true for a short time, but if you have had allergies previously, you will risk developing them again in your new home to potential allergens found there.

So what are allergies?

In short, allergies are an over-reaction of your Deadly-Allergies-and-Anaphylaxis Phoenix body’s immune system to otherwise-innocuous items and components found in the environment. Normally, your body’s immune system protects you against infection by harmful pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other harmful invaders by creating antibodies to destroy them. An allergy occurs when your body mistakes a harmless material for a harmful invader and develops antibodies against it. This is why you might sneeze, have itchy eyes, have sinus pain, or have more severe symptoms when coming into contact with an allergen.

So does moving to Phoenix help alleviate allergies?

Yes and no. If your allergies are triggered by air pollution or other components that are isolated to selected geographic areas, you can relocate and drastically improve your allergy symptoms. However, many people have moved from the city or the suburbs to a rural or desert location, only to find their allergies reappear within a few years.

The reason why makes sense; a person who has developed allergies already has an immune system that is prone to developing sensitivities to innocuous materials. When you relocate, all you’re doing is removing the previously-offending materials from your environment; you’re not treating the underlying allergies. This leaves your immune system vulnerable to sensitizing itself to an entirely new allergen.

For example, if you move to the desert to escape an allergy to tree pollen, you may be fine for a few years before your immune system becomes sensitized to grass pollen or the pollen from a different tree species.

Before moving house, speak with your doctor or allergist about your specific allergies and treatments, and you should also ask for a referral to a well-known allergist in the area you are relocating to so you can continue with your existing allergy shots and treatments you might be undergoing.

If you’re still planning to relocate to the desert – for example, you’re retiring and want to live in one of the many retirement communities that have sprung up in our beautiful desert state- here are some examples of the most common allergens you might run into in the desert.

1. Dust and Pollution Allergies

You can’t escape dust and pollution, no matter where you move to. Dust can be composed of anything, including skin cells, mold spores, grains of pollen, broken-down bits of rock and soil, and grains of sand. It can also include the waste products of animals or insects such as dust mites. The specific composition of dust may change depending on the area you relocate to, but you won’t be able to totally escape it. If you have an allergy to dust, your immune system might change to react to the dust of your new location, leaving you miserable all over again.

2. Mold Allergies

Many people believe molds are only a problem in cooler climates with lots of rain, but they can also exist in dry climates as well. One dangerous example of this is the mold that causes valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis; it’s a mold commonly found in the soils of Arizona, California, and other parts of the southwest that can lie dormant in dry weather and be kicked up when it rains or when the ground is otherwise disturbed. Valley fever aside, a lot of molds exist in desert soil and flourish during the rainy season.

3. Animal Dander

Where there are animals, there will continue to be animal dander. Dander isn’t just the fur of animals, it’s also the skin cells and saliva proteins that are shed when an animal sheds or grooms itself. This is why cat dander allergies can be such a nightmare; because cats groom themselves so fastidiously, they leave lots of saliva proteins behind that can trigger allergic reactions.

4. Pollen

Wherever there are plants, there will likely be pollen. Pollen is how plants and trees reproduce, it’s why they release so much of it during the spring and summer months.

September officially starts the allergy season here in Phoenix but this year has not been kind to allergy sufferers.   If you have been visiting or living here throughout the last few months, and you suffer from allergies, you likely have felt miserable!   Due to the rain and warmer winter, the plants have been in full bloom earlier and longer which is causing tons of pollen!

And if you have not suffered before from allergies but this year, noticed itchy eyes, filled sinuses, sinus headaches, wheezing… you should consider getting a PCP referral to a board-certified allergist in order to get comprehensive allergy testing which tests for our native desert plants as well as other allergens.

As we stated above, when you relocate to new places, all the sudden you may experience allergies!   As examples, if you move from Arizona due to a ragweed allergy, for example, you might find yourself eventually becoming allergic to the pollen released by grass in your new location. Or you already have an allergy to tree pollens, moved to the desert, but now might get an allergy to ragweed or to the trees in your new Phoenix home as you grow more acclimated to our environment.

5. Insects

There are two ways people can develop allergies to insects. The first (and best known) is by developing an allergy to insect venoms such as bee or wasp stings. This can lead to Anaphylaxis, which can rapidly be fatal if not treated in time. The second way to develop allergies is by developing sensitivity to proteins left by an insect; these can be left in their saliva, droppings, or other things they come into contact with.

Most people think of dust mite allergies, but you can also develop sensitivities to kissing bugs, cockroaches, mosquitoes, fleas, and other insects. Some insects can also contribute to you developing allergies to unrelated things. For example, if you are bitten by a lone star tick, you risk developing an allergy to meat due to a protein that can be transmitted via the tick’s saliva.

Arizona Allergies Q&A

1) Are there allergies in Arizona?

Unfortunately, allergies are an unpleasant reality regardless of where you live. In recent years, there’s a significant increase in the number of sufferers across the country, and Arizona is no exception.  We have experienced many days this spring with a high pollen count which has made this spring one of the worst for allergy sufferers.

2) But, can you really have allergies in the desert?

The hot, dry climate of the desert may not be helpful to allergens that benefit from a more humid environment. However, other allergenic substances, such as pollen and insect venom, are definitely present in the drier regions of the country.

3) What causes allergies in Arizona?

Apart from the allergens mentioned above, allergies in Arizona are often caused by various types of pollen found in trees indigenous to the area. Ash, elm mulberry, sycamore, mesquite, as well as cottonwood and juniper, are frequently responsible for the increased pollen counts that give so much trouble to hay fever sufferers. Other highly allergenic plants include the very common bermuda grass, and various species of weed, such as the giant ragweed.

4) Does Arizona have an allergy season?

While spring is often thought as the worse time of the year for people with allergies, the fall allergy season in Arizona can also be quite troublesome. The increase in rainfall encourages the growth of several native species of grass and weeds. What’s more, plants produce pollen throughout the year and the blooming season for the state’s most common species varies considerably. For instance, junipers bloom in January while ash and cottonwood do so from January to February.

5) How can I reduce my pollen exposure?

On days with high pollen counts, try to stay indoors as much as possible. Keep your windows shut and use the air conditioning. If you have to do any gardening or yard work, consider wearing a mask. If you take any allergy medication, do so before you venture outside. It will prevent the onset of your symptoms, or, at least, reduce them significantly. As soon as you get home, shower and change your clothes. This will keep a great deal of pollen out of your house.

Whether you are new to Phoenix or you have lived here for some time, our specialty allergy doctors know how difficult it can be to live with allergies. Our clinics can assist you with allergy testing, allergy treatments, and any other information in order to keep your allergies in check. Call or visit our website for more information or to schedule an appointment. Remember that we have offices all throughout the Valley- Anthem, Avondale, Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Glendale!

Further Reading

Desert Plants Causing Havoc for Arizona Allergy Sufferers“. allergyarizona.net, Adult and Pediatric Allergy Associates, P.C., 13 Feb. 2019, allergyarizona.net/desert-plants-causing-havoc-for-arizona-allergy-suffers/.

High Desert Asthma and Allergies-Advice from Asthma Specialists“. allergyarizona.net, Adult and Pediatric Allergy Associates, P.C., 21 Nov. 2016, allergyarizona.net/high-desert-asthma-and-allergies-advice-from-asthma-specialists/.

5 Tips for Preventing Hay Fever in Arizona“. allergyarizona.net, Adult and Pediatric Allergy Associates, P.C., 15 Nov. 2018, allergyarizona.net/tips-for-preventing-hay-fever-in-arizona/.

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