The Prescott area is known for many things. Most are positive, but there is one that makes many of the area’s residents absolutely miserable.
“We are given the dubious honor of being the number one allergy capital of the country,” said Dr. Susan Godman, founder and owner of Partners in Health Care Naturally in Prescott.
Drs. Mark Strasser and Derek Hewitt — of Prescott Ear, Nose, Throat & Allergy — agreed that Prescott is particularly inhospitable to those who suffer from seasonal allergies.
“There is truth to the fact that there is an intense release of a very allergenic pollen from the juniper tree around here, which is similar to what people deal with in Texas, called Cedar fever,” Strasser said.
In addition to the juniper, environmental conditions of the area favor a wide variety of hyper-allergenic vegetation.
“We’re unique here that we have such varied geographic climb,” Hewitt said. “We have elevations from 8,000 feet down to 4,500 feet. The varied vegetation here — from Prescott Valley to the Bradshaw Mountains and such — there’s just lots more potential for allergies than, say, in Missouri.”
Much of that vegetation, including the ponderosa pine, is not indigenous to this area, but was brought here over the years, Godman said.
“There’s this soup of all these pollens that don’t really belong together,” she said.
And given the temperate climate, something different is blooming just about every season.
“You’re just being bombarded,” Godman said.
That bombardment with allergens is especially intense in February, March and April, when many plants begin to bloom. This year has been different, though. The junipers, which tend to be the main springtime culprit for allergies in the Prescott area, didn’t really begin releasing pollen until mid-March.
“Because we didn’t really have any water, everything was kind of postponed,” Godman said.
Springtime allergy sufferers might breathe deeply, knowing this late blooming season could also mean a short allergy season.
“If it gets really hot and dry in May, it should be over by the first week of May,” Godman said. “But if it gets cold again, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
HOW ALLERGIES START
Although seasonal allergies are not uncommon, little is known about why people suffer from them.
Here’s a brief summary of what is known:
Allergic reactions begin when the human immune system misjudges a harmless protein — whether pollen, cat dander or various foods — interpreting it as a threat. Once the system has gotten the wrong impression about the protein, there’s no changing its “mind,” Hewitt said, and the allergic reaction typically continues for life.
“Antibodies treat allergens like something it has to attack, something that’s bad, even though it’s not necessarily bad,” Hewitt said.
These antibodies, called immunoglobulin E (IgE), trigger the release of histamines that swell respiratory tissues and cause coughing and sneezing as a means of expelling whatever is considered a threat.
But why this mix up occurs is not clear.
“The exact causes of allergy symptoms are still being investigated,” according to FightTheCauseOfAllergy.org.
And, unfortunately, symptoms can arise at any time in one’s life.
“There’s usually a first exposure, and it’s that first exposure that primes your immune system to attack the next time,” Hewitt said. “Sometimes that first exposure can be a few years long or so.”
Godman has noticed this gestation period among her patients.
“Very few people move here and have an allergic season that first year,” Godman said. “The typical time period here in Prescott that I hear is ‘I’ve lived here five years, and suddenly this year I’ve got allergies.’”
HOW TO MANAGE SYMPTOMS
There is no vaccine for allergies, and those who suffer with allergic reactions can only manage the symptoms.
Allopathic medicine — which uses pharmacological agents or physical interventions, like surgery, to treat or suppress symptoms of diseases or other medical conditions — relies on three methods to help those who suffer from allergies. “There’s avoidance, medications and desensitization,” Hewitt said.
Avoidance doesn’t mean cutting down juniper trees, he said, noting that pollen can travel more than 50 miles.
“We have so much juniper around here that you could cut it down for a half-mile around you, and you’re still going to get exposed to it,” Hewitt said.
Instead, avoidance means staying indoors as much as possible during peak pollen seasons, including keeping windows closed, using an air conditioner or air cleaner, and showering after being outside for any length of time, to wash off pollen and other allergens from hair and skin.
Medications, such as antihistamines or steroid shots, can be used for fast relief, but since they only mask the symptoms, allergy testing and subsequent desensitizing through a series of shots can help the worst of cases, Hewitt said.
On the naturopathic side, which relies on the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing process, Godman focuses on stabilizing the cells that release histamine, so an allergic response is less likely to occur when allergens are present.
Some common cell stabilizers Godman recommends for that purpose are vitamin C, Coresatin, Bromelain and stinging nettles.
She also recommends modifying one’s diet during peak pollen seasons. “One of the things that can cause more histamine response is if you’re eating a diet that contains things that you’re already mildly allergic to, or sensitive to,” she said.
Some of the most common foods people are allergic to include soy, gluten, dairy, alcohol, sugar, corn and caffeine, she said.
“If you cut those seven out during the times of year you’re most allergic to pollen, that will likely cut a lot of allergens down,” Godman said.