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Davis, California

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Experiencing spring allergies? Regional agriculture may be to blame


Davis is a particularly problematic region for those with seasonal allergies, hay fever

Gesundheit! Spring Quarter is in full swing and the orchestra of sneezes and sniffles resonates with the UC Davis students and faculty. With campus centrally located in a dense agricultural area, the climate can prove problematic for those with seasonal allergies and can have a significant impact on their daily lives.

“I have allergies year-round, but they definitely get worse when spring rolls around,” said Teagan Ferdinandsen, a third-year civil and environmental engineering major. “I sneeze all day long. I wake up in the mornings with a really sore throat from post-nasal drip, so I Neti Pot twice a day and I take Zyrtec every day and Flonase because it’s the only thing that really helps.”

Seasonal allergies, otherwise known as hay fever, are primarily caused by the release of pollens into the atmosphere by certain trees, grasses and various plants.

“Normally, people breathe in these substances, such as pollen, without a problem,” said Dr. Cindy Schorzman, the medical director of the UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services. “When a person has seasonal allergies, his or her immune system acts as if the substance is harmful to the body, and that causes symptoms. When someone who is allergic breathes in pollen, for example, the immune system mistakenly sees this pollen as dangerous and releases antibodies that attack the allergens. Part of this antibody response causes the release of histamines into the bloodstream. It is these histamines that trigger the runny nose and other symptoms associated with allergies.”

The severity of one’s allergy symptoms depend on the amount of exposure to particular triggers, such as pollen count, amount of time spent outdoors, wind speed and wind direction. Plants pollinate year-round, though spring allergies are particularly nasty for those sensitive to tree pollens.

“Davis tends to be a problematic area to live in for a lot of people with allergies and a big contributor to that is the agriculture and the prevalence of the plants that produce allergens such as pollen,” Schorzman said. “Tree pollen in particular tends to be high in the spring, it’s not just pollen that people are reacting to, but certainly that is a big contributor.”

According to pollen.com, a trusted allergy tracking and information website recommended by Schorzman, trees such as elm, pine, birch, ash, hickory, poplar and cypress pollinate between January and April.

“Pollen can travel quite far by wind, so it doesn’t tend to be incredibly localized,” Schorzman said. “Wind plays a big factor. It’s a combination of wind, temperature, how recently it has rained and a big part of it is what is blooming.”

According to a study done by the Environ Health Perspect, across the country there has been an increase in the number of people experiencing allergies and in the breadth of allergy triggers. This study outlines that climate change and the increased amount of CO2 in the air is to blame, causing plants to grow at increased rates, thus producing more pollen.

“I’m from Fresno, which has horrible air quality. Davis is actually an improvement,” Ferdinandsen said. “Fresno has some of the worst air quality in the United States. Living there is like being a smoker.”

Ferdinandsen is not alone. Soha Said, a third year human development major, also experiences severe seasonal allergies.

“I found out I was extremely allergic to every type of grass, two types of trees, two types of weeds,” Said said. “So I’m really allergic to a lot of things, especially here in Davis because of the pollen. I lived in the Bay Area growing up, and it was never this bad.”

Coastal areas generally tend to have lower pollen counts as a result of ocean breezes.

“There was a long period of time during my freshman year where I would get a sinus infection every month,” Said said. “I would be put on a Z-Pak, or Zithromax, every month. And it got to the point where I had to start getting allergy shots.”

Allergy shots, or immunotherapy, can serve as long-term solutions for severe cases of seasonal allergies. This process of injecting allergens under the skin is called desensitization.

“What they do with allergy shots is you go through allergy testing, often a skin test but sometimes they will do a blood test, and they will test common allergens and see what exactly an individual is reacting to,” Schorzman said. “Once they know what that individual person’s main allergens are, then they will make a shot containing very small doses of what they are allergic to.”

Desensitization is an individualized process specific to one’s triggers. Allergy shots relieve symptoms by stimulating the immune system and building a tolerance to particular allergens.

“Then those doses will gradually increase over time and the idea behind that is to alter that person’s antibody response so that they aren’t reacting so strongly to those allergens,” Schorzman said.

There are several recommended home remedies and proactive measures that can be taken to alleviate symptoms.

“The main things we recommend in terms of home remedies are allergy reduction and avoidance,” Schorzman said. “Closing the windows on high pollen days and running the AC, when you come in from working or being outside removing clothes that have been exposed, showering and washing your hair, all of those can aid in allergy exposure reduction.”

Symptoms range from sneezing and itchy eyes to the more severe swelling and restricted airways experienced by Said and Ferdinandsen. All allergy-afflicted students can find relief at the Student Health and Wellness Center.

“All of our primary care providers see seasonal allergies often, especially in the spring, so [they] are comfortable with helping students with the initial prescription of medications,” Schorzman said.

Even if someone hasn’t experienced seasonal allergies prior to attending UC Davis, due to the high pollen count in this rich agricultural area, one might find themselves at the door of the Student Health and Wellness Center, begging for relief.



Written by: Grace Simmons — features@theaggie.org


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