Joan West has a way of describing springtime in Oklahoma City.
“I love living here, but spring is the only time I think I'd rather live in a desert,” West said.
West, 56, suffers from seasonal allergies, but springtime is the worst as trees pollinate. There are days she can barely go outside, much less get in her twice-weekly walk around Lake Hefner.
“My eyes usually start watering in March and then the sneezing starts and the drainage in the back of my throat,” she said. “I usually have to put up with it through May.”
West is living in a bad place for allergy sufferers.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Oklahoma City is ranked No. 6 nationally on its Spring Allergy Capitals list. Knoxville, Tenn., was No. 1 for the third consecutive year.
The ranking is based on pollen scores, number of allergy medications used per patient and the number of board certified allergists per patient.
Oklahoma has an abundant supply of trees that produce high amounts of windblown pollen. Some of the worst include elm, oak, mesquite, cedar and mulberry trees. All are highly active this time of year.
“Cedar causes significant problems,” said Greg Metz, an allergist at the Oklahoma Allergy and Asthma Clinic. “But all of it depends on weather patterns and rain and other factors. And a lot of it comes down to what the patient is sensitive to.”
When trees pollinate longer it can prolong the suffering, but there are misconceptions about which trees cause the worst problems. For example, West said she doesn't like Bradford pear trees because she believes they aggravate her allergies when they begin to bloom in March, but that's not necessarily the case.
University of Tulsa biology professor Estelle Levetin said trees that are pollinated by insects are not a significant cause of allergies. It's the wind pollinated trees that cause the most problems.
“Trees like the Bradford pear use a tremendous amount of metabolic energy to attract insects by producing nectar that attracts insects,” she said. “They don't produce a lot of airborne allergens for this reason.”
Levetin said the blame placed on Bradford pears is similar to the blame placed on golden rod in the fall.
“People blame golden rod because it has yellow flowers that are very obvious,” she said. “Ragweed has flowers that are more inconspicuous but is the cause of most allergy problems in the fall. Wind-
Metz said mulberry and pecan trees are also known for causing severe allergies, and both are common in Oklahoma, with pecans found in more rural areas. Mesquite trees also cause problems. Mesquites are both wind- and tree-
No matter the tree, the symptoms are the same. Itchy throat, runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing fits. Metz said patients he sees complain about all of those symptoms, but two rise above them all.
“The eye symptoms and the postnasal drip tend to be the ones that bother them the most,” Metz said.
For those who do suffer from allergies, there are options including prescription and over-
Metz said it's best to start with the over-
And for those who don't want to take medication, Levitin said staying indoors helps, especially during the morning hours when tree pollen counts are often the highest.
“You can do things to limit your exposure,” Levitin said. “We have found running the air conditioning can help remove some pollen. Having windows open to catch a nice breeze might be nice this time of year, but not if you have
I love living here, but spring is the only time I think I'd rather live in a desert.”