AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – As Texans look forward to the festivities of February, from the Super Bowl and Daytona 500 to Valentine’s Day, some are also already starting to feel the first tingling of the upcoming allergy season.
However, when exactly allergy season begins can be difficult to pin down, especially in Texas. Not only can it depend on the weather, but also the region and the specific kind of allergy the person asking might be referring to. Because of that, someone with a cedar allergy in San Antonio might experience their allergy season months apart from someone in Cactus who is sensitive to ragweed pollen.
Here’s an overview of the common allergens around the Texas Panhandle, when they tend to rear their heads, and how to be prepared no matter when your allergy season falls.
How do allergies happen?
Allergies are physiological reactions, according to the BSA Health System in Amarillo, that happen when the immune system reacts to a foreign substance (an allergen) that someone has inhaled, touched, or eaten. When the immune system reacts to an allergen in the skin, eyes, stomach, nose, sinuses, throat, and lungs, people may experience classic allergy symptoms from itchy eyes to rashes and sneezing.
While much of the United States tends to see a break in allergies over the winter due to colder air, areas of Texas have been ranked on multiple health websites as some of the worst for common allergies. The more temperate climate in Texas, along with high winds and plant life, have contributed to at least one allergy season or another lasting through most of the year. Ragweed, cedar, and grass pollens can drift through the Texas air to some degree nearly all year round, and there are different types of allergy-worsening molds for both drier and more humid parts of the state.
Allergens on the High Plains
Across the state of Texas, as noted in a number of health blogs and allergy forecasts, the most common allergens include ragweed pollen, cedar tree pollen, grass pollen, and mold. However, the Texas Panhandle also shares a number of common allergens with New Mexico.
According to sources such as allergy forecasts, the New Mexico Department of Health, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, and the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, common allergens throughout the year on the High Plains include:
- Juniper (Cedar) trees can start releasing pollen as early as December and tend to peak in March or April, which makes it a prevalent allergen throughout the winter on the High Plains
- Elm trees tend to release pollen through flowers and fruit and can start releasing it around January, reaching a peak in March or April.
- Mulberry trees tend to be heavy pollinators and begin their season around mid-February to mid-April, which means they commonly end up a significant allergen in early spring.
- “Cool-season” grasses often begin to bloom and spread pollen as soon as temperatures rise above freezing, including Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue. During milder winters in the Texas Panhandle, this can mean these grasses could begin spreading pollen in December or January.
- Cottonwood and ash trees are common on the High Plains and tend to release pollen through most of the spring and summer months.
- Texas’ official state tree, the pecan, tends to pollinate around March and into May.
- Oak trees tend to start their season in late March or early April, and often last through May.
- Ragweed and other weed pollens tend to become more prevalent in the summer and early fall, peaking around August in a normal year.
- Sagebrush tends to peak August and September, though its season can run from July through the end of October. It is often mistaken for tumbleweed but appears less common in Texas than in New Mexico.
- Tumbleweeds, not to be mistaken with sagebrush, are one of the most prevalent allergens throughout summer and fall on the High Plains.
- A wide array of grasses also release pollen through the summer and fall on the High Plains, including common “warm-season” grasses such as bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, and buffalograss.
- Mold tends to spread easily indoors and in mild weather, which means it can become a problem as much in fall and winter around Texas as it can in spring and summer. Further, mold spores can be hardy enough to thrive in harsh and dry conditions, making them a significant allergen around the steppe climate of the High Plains as well as more humid areas of the state.
- Dust and dander can also be significant allergens throughout the whole year across the High Plains, whether they are spread outdoors via high winds or inside homes and covering furniture and bedding material. This lends toward both being an issue whether the High Plains is experiencing a slushy winter or a tinderbox of a dry spring and summer.
How to handle any ‘allergy season’
According to sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of New Mexico Health Sciences, there are a number of strategies people can take to protect against pollen and deal with the effects of allergies when they strike, including:
- Checking local forecasts regularly for information on pollen levels and air quality, and planning to spend less time outdoors when levels will be high.
- Taking prescribed allergy and asthma medications as prescribed by health care providers.
- Avoiding touching eyes and face outside, and washing off and changing clothes once inside to clear away pollen buildup on skin and fabric.
- Keeping windows and doors closed during pollen seasons and, if possible, using high-efficiency air filters for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.
- Using over-the-counter allergy relief medications and methods such as antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays, and nasal cleansers such as neti pots to help clear sinuses and treat symptoms.
Altogether, working with health care professionals to identify allergy triggers and create an action plan can help minimize the impact of any “allergy season,” no matter where in Texas you are or what day of the year it is.