High rates of Texas mountain cedar make winter season the most severe for many allergy sufferers in San Antonio.
High rates of Texas mountain cedar make winter season the most severe for many allergy sufferers in San Antonio. Credit: Flickr / micklpickl

San Antonio has been named as one of five most challenging places in which to live with fall allergies in 2018.

A report released Monday by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ranked San Antonio fourth among the 100 largest cities in the United States due to its high pollen count, rates of prescription medication use, and the number of allergy specialists located in the area.

In 2017, San Antonio ranked 16th on the list, said Angel Waldron, a consumer health advocate with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, an education, advocacy, and research nonprofit that aims to improve the quality of life for people with asthma and allergies. The organization has published the Allergy Capitals report annually since 2003.

“When we look at specific data for [San Antonio] compared to last year – the medication usage for people there has not changed and the number of board-certified allergists has not changed,” Waldron said. “The one thing that did increase from the last report was the pollen count,” which is the primary reason for San Antonio’s jump in the ranking this year.

Waldron said during the fall, the South and the Midwest regions of the U.S. dominate the Allergy Capitals list, mostly due to large amounts of ragweed and its ability to easily grow and thrive in the area.

The No. 1 allergy capital for fall 2018 is McAllen, Texas, followed by Louisville, Kentucky, and Jackson, Mississippi. Coming in fifth behind San Antonio is Dayton, Ohio.

“We want to help folks who live in those climates know what is in their environment, how to manage their disease, and what they can do to reduce exposure,” Waldron said.

The pollen count rate in San Antonio is 64, well above the average rate of 45, according to the report. McAllen had a total pollen score of 85 – a few sneezes above No. 2 Louisville’s average rate of 70.

Local allergist Dr. Joe Diaz told the Rivard Report on Tuesday it is no surprise that San Antonio made a Top 5 list for places with high rates of allergies. “In San Antonio, patients suffer from allergies year-round because of the climate we have, and because there is always mold in the air. It’s a big allergy capital in the U.S.”

While ragweed is a main cause of fall allergy symptoms across the continental U.S., winter season is the most severe for many local allergy sufferers due to high rates of mountain cedar, Diaz said.

“Mountain cedar, which is really a local and Hill Country tree, pollinates extensively in the middle of the winter. Historically, the pollen counts peak around Christmas Day. There is no other pollen in the air at the time, and the northerly winds blowing in from the Hill Country help cause havoc in San Antonio.”

Diaz, who has been a practicing allergist in San Antonio for more than 30 years, said the city ranks consistently high on lists of places where people with allergies suffer the most.

While the foundation report noted that San Antonio has not seen an increase in the number of board-certified allergists since 2017, Diaz said patients often go to primary care providers or non-board-certified practicing allergists for prescriptions, including steroid shots and oral medications.

“The majority of patients don’t need to go to a specialist,” he explained.

Asked if San Antonio residents should attempt the “cedar fever cure,” the Texas Hill Country tale suggesting allergy sufferers eat leaves and berries from a mountain cedar tree to build immunity, Diaz said while more controlled version of this homeopathic treatment are available, specialists in the U.S. typically do not recommend such treatment as it has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The best way to treat an allergy, Diaz said, is to avoid exposure by staying indoors during the early morning hours when plants pollinate the most and eliminating indoor allergens including dust mites and pet dander.

“It’s somewhat impractical to ask patients to completely avoid pollen exposure,” he said, “so the next best thing would be to use prescription and over-the-counter medication to responsibly control for symptoms.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.