You know the feeling: Sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, coughing, postnasal drip, itchy nose and throat, dark circles under the eyes, and swollen, watery and itchy eyes. Pollen allergies… are just plain awful especially if they turn into a nasty, gross sinus infection. It’s all an indication that your body isn’t working at 100% efficiency.
Spring allergies affect at least 35 million Americans
Each year The Asthma and Allergy Foundation’s releases an annual list of the worst cities for those with spring allergies. And each year you’ll notice there’s usually a shakeup in the rankings, and you’ll notice that other lists are quite different, too. No scientific studies have systematically compared allergy risks in different cities. Instead, folks turn to these arbitrary annual lists for bragging rights.
When conditions are right, a plant starts to pollinate. Weather affects how much pollen is carried in the air each year, but it has less effect on when pollination occurs. As a rule, weeds pollinate in late summer and fall. The weed that causes 75% of all hay fever is ragweed which has numerous species. One ragweed plant is estimated to produce up to 1 billion pollen grains. Other weeds that cause allergic reactions are cocklebur, lamb’s quarters, plantain, pigweed, tumbleweed or Russian thistle and sagebrush.
Trees pollinate in late winter and spring. Ash, beech, birch, cedar, cottonwood, box, elder, elm, hickory, maple and oak pollen can trigger allergies.
Grasses pollinate in late spring and summer. Those that cause allergic reactions include Kentucky bluegrass, timothy, Johnson, Bermuda, redtop, orchard, rye and sweet vernal grasses.
Worst Allergy Cities
The list of worst cities for springtime allergies are not that scientific because the worst city for one person is the best city for another person. It all depends on what you’re allergic to.
Being allergic to one kind of pollen doesn’t mean you’re allergic to another. The city that has the worst tree pollen count may not have the worst grass pollen count. It’s a common misconception that pollens are pollens. They’re not.
Don’t use any of the worst-cities-with-pollen list to pick one place to live over another. Instead, get allergy testing so you’ll know what triggers your allergies. Also, get tested for “Leaky Gut” as this may be the cause. And, the next time you go to have your blood work done, ask for the lab to do a vitamin D blood test because if your “D” level comes back low, then this too can be a cause for your allergies.
And if you must move, do your research to find out if what triggers your allergies is where you’d like to go and live. It’s critical that you discover if whatever it is grows widely in that area you’re considering.
Here are a few good resources you can check out:
But, what if you love your home, the area where you live? What if you’re in a bad allergy community? Talk to your health care team such as your medical doctor and your chiropractor. There are preventive treatments you can start before allergy season to help you stay where your home is that I’ll briefly cover later on.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Providence, Rhode Island
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Charlotte, North Carolina
Greensboro, North Carolina
St. Louis, Missouri
New Orleans, Louisiana
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The main problem with cities is the type of plant or grasses, trees or weeds that grow in the area. Cities with an exceptionally high concentration of trees, grass, or weeds have more pollen in the air. Local environmental factors such as wind, humidity, typical temperatures – and air pollution – also play a big role in allergies.
Most pollen is released early in the morning, shortly after dawn. This results in high counts near the source plants. Pollen travels best on warm, dry, breezy days and peaks in urban areas midday. Pollen counts are lowest during chilly, wet periods.
It’s difficult to pick out one region of the country as “better” or “worse” for allergies, according to the experts. Why? Even within a region the trees, grasses, and weeds that typically provoke allergies can differ.
People’s sensitivities are very different, too. For example, one person may be allergic to tree pollen. Another person may be allergic to grass pollen. Your allergies react to the plants that surround you, no matter the region of the country.
In the Mountains
In the mountains, there are fewer plants, which might explain why some mountainous states are absent from the list. The higher the mountains, the fewer the plants, resulting in less pollen overall.
Pollen from evergreens is typically heavy pollen, so it falls to the ground relatively quickly. It poses less of an allergy problem simply because it’s airborne for a shorter time.
Near the Coast
Some seaside towns usually make the list, but in general a sea breeze helps reduce allergens. The closer to the sea the better. If you can afford to live in that first quarter mile from the beach, it’s great. Pollens aren’t much a problem there.
But, in coastal areas that are densely populated, the pollution can make allergies worse despite the sea breeze. One exception: Miami, the sea breeze is strong enough to reduce pollen-triggered allergies, despite the population.
In the middle of Mississippi, everything sits, so pollen is likely to be worse.
Plants around river basins vary in different parts of the country. For instance, in the lower Mississippi, ragweed and chenopods thrive.
Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and Missouri the tree pollen season is roughly March to June. Trees that typically trigger allergies include elder, alder, birch, oak, elm, and hickory.
Overlapping the tree pollen season, grasses start to pollinate in the summer. Grasses that can provoke allergy symptoms include Bermuda, Timothy, fescue, rye, and orchard grass.
Weeds pollinate in the fall. Weed season is pretty uniform. The Midwestern states are also known for lamb’s quarter weed, pigweed, and Russian thistle.
Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut – tree pollens begin in February or March, continuing through June or so. Among the offenders: Elm, hazelnut, maple, poplar, hackberry, and red cedar.
In May and June, grass pollens kick up. While some people are only allergic to Bermuda grass, most with allergies are allergic to all grasses.
Weed season begins in August and continues through the fall. Pollens from such weeds as English plantain, lamb’s-quarter, and cocklebur provoke symptoms.
In Washington, Oregon, and California, tree pollination is usually in full swing from February to June. Trees that are native cause the most allergy problems.
In the Pacific Northwest, pollen from the native alder and birch trees can make people with allergies miserable.
In California, oak and walnut trees are problematic for those with allergies. Pine trees don’t deserve their bad reputation. People always think pine pollen causes problems because they see it. When they park their car under pines in the mountain, the car can be covered with the yellow pollen.
But pine is a heavy pollen, it falls to the ground. It’s airborne, it settles. It doesn’t float in the air as long so it doesn’t provoke as strong an allergy attack.
In the dryer states of Arizona and New Mexico, trees such as cedar, ash, and oak pollinate from about February to April.
Grass pollination in the West is high in May and June. Bermuda grass, orchard, wheat grass, and fescue are common in the West. If you’re allergic to one grass, you’re often allergic to almost all, but people allergic to Bermuda grasses are often allergic only to those.
Weed season in the West can extend from spring or early summer through fall. Among the offenders: Plantain weed. Ragweed is not so much a problem in the Pacific Northwest and northern California, but it can be in Arizona and New Mexico. Ragweed can grow throughout the U.S., according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga are always on the worst cities for allergies list, and for reasons that make sense because the longer the growing season, the worse it is for allergies.
A second factor is rainfall. People with allergies who live in a Southern city with a temperate climate, long growing season, and plenty of rain can expect to sneeze a lot.
In the south, tree pollen season is roughly February through May, with pollens from oak, cedar, and pecan trees the worst allergy triggers. Birch and hickory trees can also provoke allergies.
Grasses can be a problem in the South year round. Commonly planted grasses include fescue, rye, and bluegrass. Never mind the type. Often, someone who is allergic to one of those will be allergic to all.
How Do Allergies Develop?
Allergies are your body’s reaction to allergens (particles your body considers foreign), a sign that your immune system is working overtime… that your body is not functioning at 100%. The first time your body encounters an allergen, your plasma cells release IgE (immunoglobulin E), an antibody specific to that allergen. IgE attaches to the surface of your mast cells.
Mast cells are found in great numbers in and on your surface tissues (i.e., those with close proximity to the external environment, such as in your skin and in the mucous membranes of your nose), where they help referee inflammatory responses. Mast cells release a number of important chemical mediators, one of which is histamine.
So, the second time your body encounters a particular allergen, within a few minutes, your mast cells become activated and release a powerful potion of histamine, leukotrienes, and prostaglandins, which trigger the entire cascade of miserable symptoms you associate with allergies such as sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, hacking cough, itchy eyes.
Pollen is an extremely common mast cell activator, but other agents can trigger these processes as well. Mold spores, dust, airborne contaminants, dust mites, pet dander, cockroaches, environmental chemicals, cleaning products, personal care products and foods can all cause allergic reactions. Every person is different in what he or she reacts to. And, just because you haven’t reacted to something in the past doesn’t mean you won’t react to it in the future – you can become sensitized at any point in time.
What to do with that Ah Choo?
If you or a loved one suffers from pollen allergies I want you to know that there’s several powerful things you can do besides give your money to the pharmaceutical industry.
For short-term relief of symptoms, you need to irrigate your sinuses with a Neti pot (a lot of folks will tell you it saved their life during allergy season (Thought I’d insert a funny picture of a tea pot being used instead of a Neti pot… a scene from “The Office”). There are also a number of foods and herbs you can try to alleviate symptoms that your chiropractor or naturopath can help you with. I highly suggest you find a chiropractor that does “cranial” adjusting as well as “upper-cervical” work as these can work what a lot of folks would call “miraculous.”
You can concentrate on eating a wholesome diet based on unprocessed, ideally organic and/or locally grown foods, including fermented foods, along with maintaining your good vitamin D levels (extremely important!) and increase your intake of animal-based omega-3 fats. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of getting sufficient amounts of high-quality animal-based omega-3 fats in your diet. The fats DHA and EPA found in fish oil and krill oil are potent anti-inflammatories.
Reduce your intake of omega-6 fats – In addition to adding omega-3 fats to your diet, you also want to reduce the amount of omega-6 fats you consume because the ratio between these two fats is very important. If you eat processed foods daily, the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fats will become distorted, which can cause the type of inflammation that leads to allergies and asthma.
About 80% of your immune system is located in your gut, so supporting your digestive health is essential to also supporting your immune system, which is your primary defense system against allergies and all disease. Processed food, GMO ingredients and synthetic additives all decimate the beneficial bacteria in your gut, thereby having a negative effect on your immune system. Ideally, you’ll want to avoid processed foods, focusing on organic, locally-grown foods instead (both to optimize your nutrition and avoid pesticides), and include fermented foods in your diet to optimize your gut flora, or use a high-quality probiotics supplement that your chiropractor or naturopath can suggest.
About 1/3 of seasonal allergy sufferers have something called “oral allergy syndrome,” in which their immune system is triggered by proteins in some foods that are molecularly similar to pollen. Your immune system looks at the protein molecule and says, “Close enough!” and attacks it. If you’re allergic to ragweed, for example, you may have cross-sensitivity to melons, bananas, tomatoes, zucchini, sunflower seeds, dandelions, chamomile, and Echinacea. If you have a grass allergy, you may also react to peaches, celery, tomatoes, melons and oranges. If this applies to you, you’ll want to avoid such foods.
Get regular exercise (especially out in fresh air if you’re an asthmatic) is crucial, as it helps to moderate insulin levels. But don’t do it when the pollen counts are their highest.
These few things I’ve suggested to you will form the foundation upon which your immune system can function in an optimal manner that gives you the power to be well.