The Sneezy Side of Spring

By: Skyler Wendler, Jeff Barker, and Mackenzie Drake

DSC_0006Bluebonnets and wildflowers decorate fields along the Texas highways. Trees are lush with leaves and flowerbeds bloom throughout the city of Austin. Those seeds you planted after the last frost are just starting to sprout and that miniature herb garden looks promising for a bountiful summer harvest.

Spring has finally arrived and while the days are bright with color and warm with sunlight… the itching, sneezing, eye-watering side of the spring is well on its way to changing your “flowery” feelings about the season.

“I get an itchy throat, my eyes itch, I sneeze constantly, and I’m always having to blow my nose,” said Collin Hayes, an environmental science major studying at Austin Community College.

Hayes, like many other citizens in the Austin area describes his daily battle with the spring allergens that recently swept through Austin, leaving piles of debris on the ground and pollen floating in the air. His most severe allergy symptoms peak during the spring time when trees, grass and wildflowers bloom.

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Science defines it as Allergic Rhinitis or “hay fever” but the common term is “seasonal allergies.” Symptoms vary from person to person. Some may experience the few occasional sneezes, while others require a doctor visit for prescriptions to relieve their pain.

With a seemingly high number of people who suffer from spring allergies in Austin, the question remains if symptoms are strictly correlated to the quantity of allergens we expose ourselves to in the local environment. According to Doctor Jeffrey Latimer with the University Healthy Services, while the case of allergies is extrinsic by nature, there is always a combination of other factors.

“You can have a predisposition from your family history that will make you more susceptible to [allergens],” said Latimer. “Some people are atopic, meaning there’s an inherited tendency towards allergies, asthma and [skin irritations.] If you are atopic, everything is going to be worse because you inherited that tendency.”

Some Austin residents, however, attribute their symptoms mainly to the warm, central Texas environment. According to Hayes, his allergies seemed to have worsened since living in the city for a few years.

“I feel like I’ve definitely suffered more allergies since being here,” said Hayes. “I lived in Houston for a bit and believe any symptoms I had there were more related to the horrible air quality than specific allergens.”

Latimer also mentioned a similar personal experience.

“When I first moved back to Texas 20 years ago, I didn’t have any [allergy problems for years],” said Latimer. “All of a sudden I started getting some significant symptoms after that.”

To prepare for and manage allergy symptoms, it helps to be aware of the specific allergens abundant to the region and know when they are most prevalent. In Austin, yellow pollen from the oak trees is abundant and easily visible in early spring. Often, that is what you see blanketing the tops of vehicles and other surfaces. “Cedar pollen is up there…and so is grass during the warmer months,” said Latimer.

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Some websites even provide daily pollen forecasts for people wanting to monitor the levels of specific allergens. The Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology  posts a daily pollen and mold report for specific regions in the United States. Their visual graphics provide daily counts for tree, weed, grass and mold concentrations in the Austin area.

And for the best possible prevention to those annoying sniffles…“avoidance is the best thing for allergic rhinitis,” said Latimer. “Like cats for instance, if you’re allergic to cats, most people have common sense to not go around a cat or whatever it is they are allergic to. Avoidance is number one.”

Avoidance just might also be the hardest medicine to prescribe. When asked if he would trade the beauty of spring and all of its pollinated nature to remain allergy free, Hayes responded that it is something he would never give up.

“Part of the reason my allergies are constantly acting up is because I love spending time outside and enjoying everything the region has to offer,” said Hayes. “My allergies are something I choose to manage with medication and other remedies when I can. I would not trade the natural beauty of Central Texas for relief from my allergy symptoms.”

How do your spring allergies compare to others in the Austin area? Check out the results to our springtime allergy survey to find out!

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