“Didn’t We Do This Last Year?”
I am reposting an article that I wrote (almost to the day) a year ago. At that time we were experiencing an unusually early “spring” allergy season starting in late January. Well, here we go again.
The Ash trees began pollinating two to three weeks earlier than usual again this year and, by the looks of things, ragweed pollen will be making an appearance much earlier as well. We can thank the relatively wet winter and beautiful warm weather this February, and I suppose one could evoke the “global warming” excuse at some point. Regardless, we are certainly in for a potent spring.
When we think of allergy season, fall and spring comes to mind, but not so much winter. Yet this December, January, and now into February, patients have been coming into our allergy clinic in the suburbs of Phoenix complaining of some of the worst allergy symptoms all year. Typical complaints include sneezing, itchy nose, and particularly, very itchy eyes.
When patients undergo testing for allergies, many show sensitivity to a number of different allergens such as plant pollen, mold, foods, and animal dander. However, in the case of the winter allergy sufferers, the majority show sensitivity to only one thing: juniper, or more specifically, Cupressaceae.
The Cupressaceae are a family of evergreen conifers found throughout the world. Arizona is home to a number of native species of cupressaceae including Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma), One Seed Juniper (Juniperus monosperma), Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana) and Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica).
Although Phoenix has a number of ornamental varieties of Cupressaceae used in landscaping, the majority are found at 3000-7000 feet elevation and cover millions of acres surrounding Phoenix on all sides. When conditions are right, a large amount of cupressaceae pollen finds its way into the valley. One of the chief offenders is Arizona Cypress which is very prevalent in the higher areas surrounding the valley and produces pollen November through March.
The pollen produced by the different varieties of Cupressaceae cross react with one another, which means that if you are allergic to one you will be allergic to all. Mountain cedar (Juniperus ashei) is the leading cause of respiratory allergy in South Texas and affects so many with severe allergy symptoms that it has been given it’s own diagnosis, “cedar fever” .
While walking my dog several weeks ago, I noticed something unexpected; a number of ash trees in full bloom. This was unexpected because it was the first week of February and ash trees usually pollinate later in the month. It was also unexpected because this was near a school in the Foothills of Ahwatukee were the ash trees are supposed to be of a less allergenic variety. This is in distinction from the Arizona Ash, Fraxinus velutina, which is notorious for it’s prolific production of allergenic pollen. For this reason landscapers have been discouraged from planting Arizona Ash trees for a number of years although they are very numerous in older communities such as the Warner Ranch area as well as old Ahwatukee and Tempe.
Ash trees are in the same family as olive trees, possible the most allergenic tree in Phoenix, and so people who are allergic to one will be allergic to the other
The ash trees are pollinating a full two to three week early this year, probable because of the warm weather. This along with large amount of Arizona Cypress and Juniper pollen in the air is creating a very difficult winter for people with allergies.