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Davis, California

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Allergies in the air affect Davis students

Spring is finally in the air, but many Davis residents may already be ready for winter again. The pollen in this new spring air has helped to start the long Davis allergy season.

You might know the symptoms – itchy eyes, runny nose or sneezing. Many students may experience seasonal allergies for the first time when they move to Davis. But what exactly is behind the long, harsh allergy season in this college town?

Davis causes allergies

Joseph Ditomaso, a cooperative extension specialist in the UC Davis Plant Sciences Department, said that a very wide variety of plants including trees, grasses and weeds produce the pollen behind spring allergies.

Those pollens are all blown by the wind through Davis and the Sacramento Valley, resulting in allergic reactions.

“The biggest culprits in our area are grasses, [but] trees with windblown pollen can also be involved,” Ditomaso said.

Davis experiences such a long allergy season in part because it is a major agriculture producer, said Dr. Stanley Naguwa, a doctor in the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology at UC Davis.

“The same conditions that allow us to grow crops allow us to grow the plants that cause allergy symptoms,” he said.

The long, warm and dry springs and summers in Davis that create a long growing season allow pollens to stay airborne. Unlike in much of the rest of the Unites States where the weather is still damp and cold, the central valley has already begun to turn green.

Naguwa said the allergy season lasts long because of weather conditions, typically spanning from early spring through summer.

“We’re blessed with having enough water to grow plants, its warm relatively soon and we have a long growing season,” Naguwa said.

Dr. Thomas Ferguson, the Medical Director at the Student Health & Wellness Center, said that our unique position in an agricultural valley far from the ocean contributes to the pollen counts.

“The agricultural activities in the Sacramento Valley result in high pollen counts and the wind patterns are such that there is less dilution since [we are] so far from ocean air flow. Pollens tend to stay around,” Ferguson said.

Many students that come from the Bay Area or the Los Angeles area are surprised when allergies suddenly hit them in Davis.

Derek Chow, a junior mechanical engineering major, has experienced worsening allergies since his move to Davis from the Bay Area.

“My allergies get a lot worse in Davis,” Chow said. “I don’t have them at home.”

Some students are from large cities or suburbs that, unlike Davis, are not surrounded by fields and crops.

“Since we live in the middle of grasslands, we would get a higher exposure to grass pollen compared to someone living in the middle of San Francisco, LA, or other metropolitan areas,” Ditomaso said.

Naguwa agreed that many individuals find that their allergies do in fact worsen when they come to college

“A lot of people have mild allergies elsewhere and discover it is worse here” Naguwa said.

Chien Yu, junior Chicana/o studies major, has also found that his allergies have become more severe in Davis compared to his home in the Bay Area, and will usually persist through all of spring quarter.

Ways to tackle allergies

Although both Yu and Chow have found that only the allergy drug Claritin will alleviate their spring time suffering, there are some alternatives for those who have yet to find relief.

Naguwa, Ferguson and Ditomaso all suggest staying indoors as much as possible during pollen season, especially on windy days.

Preventing exposure to allergens is the best way to control symptoms, Ferguson said.

Other ways to minimize contact include closing windows in your house and car, avoiding fans that draw on outside air, using the air conditioner, avoiding hanging laundry outside and bathing and changing clothes after being outside.

If the spring weather temps you to go outside, avoid exercising outside or wear a pollen mask to minimize the pollen you breathe, Naguwa said.

Ferguson suggested avoiding peak exposure times. He said that many of the students that the Student Health Center treats for allergies find relief with saline washes of nasal passages.

“Maybe it helps to clear the pollen … not sure but many seem to benefit.” he said.

Another tactic is immunotherapy, or “allergy shots.” This treatment uses regular injections of allergens to make the immune system used to the allergen so that it no longer has a reaction to it.

Ferguson said that the Student Health Center has over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines and decongestants that can help alleviate allergy symptoms. Students can also make appointments with primary care providers who might recommend a prescription for the allergies.

Visit healthcenter.ucdavis.edu for more information.

KELLY KRAG-ARNOLD can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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