Oklahoma City this week was ranked the 10th-most challenging place to live for fall allergies among U.S. cities by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
That's an improvement over last year's No. 4 ranking, but it still leaves metro-area residents with itchy eyes, headaches, sneezing and other allergy symptoms.
Dr. Dean Atkinson, an allergist with the Oklahoma Allergy and Asthma Clinic, said allergies are worse in Oklahoma because of a longer warm season.
"Generally, the further south you move, the higher the pollen count," Atkinson said.
Ragweed is the big fall allergen, he said.
Mold is a year-round problem. And while many people might think staying inside will help their allergies, Atkinson said people inside are more exposed to molds, dust mites and pet dander.
Jeffrey May, a certified indoor air quality professional and owner of May Indoor Air Investigations, based in Massachusetts, said people should look for leaks or stains on ceilings and walls inside their homes, schools and offices as signs of mold. They also need to be aware that mold loves moisture and can grow anywhere.
Many people choose to get their air ducts cleaned before turning on furnaces for the winter, but May said cleaning the air coil is most important.
"Most duct companies don't clean the air coil; they just clean the ducts. I often find blowers covered with mold," he said
Dust mites, pet dander
are allergy triggers
Dust mite growth is another year-round problem as the creatures populate carpets and upholstered furniture, Atkinson said. Leather furniture is better, he said.
May tells people to use a Hepa-filtered vacuum when cleaning. The filter prevents the re-release of allergens into the air, he said. There also are some new filter fans that help clean the air.
"The problem with carpet is you can never get all the dust out," he said.
"In schools, it's tragic, because they wash the carpets right before the kids come to school and that's the most humid time of year, so they never dry out. Then they get moldy."
He said the problem particularly is dangerous for young children, who may be crawling around on the floor.
"I have a particle counter, and it might measure 2,000 or 3,000 particles per cubic foot of air," he said.
"That can go up to 50,000 particles per cubic foot when you tap the carpet."
Atkinson said one of the best things people can do to keep dust mites controlled is to buy allergy-free encasements for mattresses and pillows. Electrostatic filters also have the potential to help.
Another major allergy trigger is pets, Atkinson said. It's one thing to have a pet-free home, but parents should also check classrooms for pets such as gerbils, rats, rabbits or other animals. Fish are fine, he said.
"If you have indoor animals, wash them," he said.
"Once-a-week washing reduces the dander burden by 10 percent, but ideally, keep them outside."
May said people who suffer consistent seasonal symptoms may find it helpful to see a doctor to get tested for specific allergies.
Atkinson said medications offer some relief.
"For years and years, we've had antihistamines, such as Benadryl," he said.
The newest medicine he prescribes is the antihistamine Xyzal. He also prescribes nasal steroid sprays, and for eyes, he recommends antihistamine eye drops.
When nothing else works, people are given allergy shots, he said.
"Once you're under attack, you're in trouble," Atkinson said.
"Cover your mouth or face. Get inside and shower as soon as possible. Saline irrigation may be helpful for some people."
Top 10 challenging places to live or fall allergy sufferers
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recently released its list of most challenging U.S. cities to live with fall allergies. Here is the top 10, with previous year's rank in parentheses:
• 2. Wichita, Kan. (2)
• 3. Louisville, Ken. (3)
• 4. Knoxville, Tenn. (9)
• 5. Jackson, Miss. (5)
• 6. McAllen, Texas (1)
• 7. Madison, Wisc. (11)
• 8. Springfield, Mass. (79)
• 9. St. Louis (17)
• 10. Oklahoma City (4)
• 12. Tulsa (8)