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Allergies in Arizona

Many people think they won’t have allergies in Arizona because it is so dry. That may have been the case many years ago, but today Arizona might be one of the last places an allergy sufferer should settle.

What Causes Allergies?

Allergies usually start when your body is introduced to a new foreign substance. The immune system is the body's organized defense mechanism against foreign invaders, particularly infections. The immune system recognizes and reacts to these foreign substances, or antigens. Antigens stimulate the production of antibodies. Antibodies protect the body and help destroy foreign particles by attaching to their surface, tagging it for destruction by immune cells.

The allergy suffer, develops a specific type of antibody called immunoglobulin E, or IgE, in response to specific normally harmless foreign substances, such as cat dander. This process sensitizes the body to those foreign objects, making the person prone to developing allergic reactions to repeated exposures.

Typically, there is a period of "sensitization" ranging from months to years prior to an allergic reaction. Although it might occasionally appear an allergic reaction has occurred on the first exposure to the allergen, there was a prior contact for the immune system to be poised to react. The body starts to release chemicals called histamines that swell respiratory tissues and cause coughing and sneezing to expel the pollens.


Seasonal allergies are most common during the spring and fall when pollen counts are the highest. Many people suffer allergies all year due to mold, dust, pet dander and a handful of other sneeze triggers. Typical allergy symptoms include clear nasal discharge/mucus or stuffiness, sneezing, fatigue, headache, a sore throat that is dry (caused by post-nasal drip), watery and irritated eyes, and a tickling or clogging sensation in the ear.

Why are allergies so bad in Arizona?

Many people believe moving to Arizona will help alleviate their allergies and asthma due to the dry climate. Depending on the severity of asthma and the type of allergies, Arizona may or may not be a beneficial change. Also, Arizona itself has many allergens, especially in the spring when the wildflowers and desert bloom.

Most of these allergens are the result of introduced plant species that are not native to Arizona. Native and non-native plant species that are insect pollinated are generally non-allergenic. However, as more people come to the state and surround themselves with plants that are wind pollinated (plants from more temperate regions), Arizona’s allergens increase.

Arizona’s climate conditions add to the intensity of the wind-borne pollen problems. Dry air increases the dehydration and buoyancy of the pollen, enabling the grain to travel great distances. Some wind-borne pollen may rise to 40,000 feet and be carried more than 50 miles.

There are two plants that are considered the primary allergy offenders in Central Arizona. First is the cynodon dactylon, a common Bermuda grass that contributes almost twice as much pollen to the daily pollen count as any other plant. It can flower several times throughout the growing season and can cause allergy problems from spring to fall. The second is the morus alba, a fruitless mulberry that was introduced from a more temperate zone and was commonly planted for its dense shade and heat tolerance. The female form of the tree produces fruit while the male form has no fruit but produces mass amounts of pollen. The male species of the morus alba are the allergy offenders.

Treating Allergies

Once sensitized to the pollen you can’t get rid of your allergies. However, there are many ways to subdue allergy symptoms. Most allergies can be treated with over-the-counter medications under the supervision of a physician or pharmacist. Antihistamines usually are the most effective treatment to keep the sniffling at bay. If allergy symptoms persist and become bothersome, your physician can help assess your condition and recommend a medication.

Take the necessary precautions for allergies by visiting your physician. As more people come to Arizona and bring non-native plants, there will be more pollen to pollute the air. This, in turn, increases the growing allergy problem in Arizona.

Family Health Providers, a service of Verde Valley Medical Center, has 10 primary care providers in four clinic locations throughout the greater Verde Valley area. Family Health Providers includes physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners who specialize in family medicine and/or internal medicine.

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