Isn’t everyone allergic in Oklahoma? I’ve come to the right state

Don’t sneeze on me!

“When I fly across the state border into Oklahoma, I start #sneezing.”  “There must be something in Oklahoma that causes my eyes to itch and burn.”  “I felt fine on vacation in California, but now I’m miserable with #allergies!” Comments like this are common if you practice allergy in Oklahoma, but are they really true?

This is ragweed pollen floating around in the air

Pol lens in Oklahoma and the Midwest are plentiful, but is this problem unique to Oklahoma? Let’s take a look at what causes allergy from one geographic location to another. Face up to the fact that #ragweed is found nationwide, but pollinates at different times depending on whether you are in Montana or New York.  If you travel to the east coast when ragweed isn’t in bloom, you won’t have symptoms even though you are truly allergic to ragweed. (same applies to every other pollen out there)

Our body’s #immune system takes several years to develop IgE which is responsible for allergic reactions to pollen and foods. If your family takes vacations in South Padre Island, your body doesn’t have time to make IgE in 1 week, and hence you don’t have allergy symptoms. But stay in south Texas (or Oklahoma) for 2 years, and you’ll likely have to call an allergist for some aggressive treatment.

Another caveat about allergy is the passage of time. The presence of allergy usually increases as you grow older and plateaus at ~ age 40.  If you move to a different location in mid-life, it may seem like your allergies are increasing based on your final destination, but it may be your allergies are just increasing because you’re getting older and have more exposure (indoor cat is a good example) and time to develop IgE. Moving away from #Oklahoma and then moving back to the state 10 years later, is a classic example of growing into your allergies. You likely could have developed more allergies ANYWHERE, just because you’ve now been exposed to more allergy seasons.

But the rubber meets the road when you find out the supply of #allergists in the United States. One would assume that if more patients are suffering from allergy in Oklahoma that we would have more allergist to take care of the problem. I looked up the supply of allergists (board certified)  in several near by cities in the US and here’s what I found (from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology web site):

  1.  Tulsa, OK–39
  2. Oklahoma City, OK–102
  3. Wichita, KS–60
  4. Kansas City Metro area–76
  5. Dallas, TX–145
  6. Denver, CO–65
  7. Boston, MA–330
  8. Los Angeles, CA–145
  9. Phoenix, AZ–47

For sure, every city has a different population, but the numbers give you an idea that allergies are very prevalent all across the nation. And indeed, allergies are no respecter of location with high pollen counts from north to south and east to west, especially now during the fall season.

You can, however, stratify cities with worse allergies than average. Oklahoma City and Wichita both make the top 10 which wouldn’t surprise me. The worst state for allergies though, is probably Tennessee!

Here’s the bottom line no matter where you live:

  1. Allergies can affect your health with missed work, more asthma, and generally feeling miserable all day long. Only the old wives’ tales will recommend you move to Arizona–they have allergies as well.
  2. It’s important to find a board-certified allergist with experience in treating allergies specific to your location. In Tulsa, we have less of a problem with sage weed and more trees, so adjust your testing and treatment accordingly.
  3. Use your medications prescribed by your doctor BEFORE the season starts. Nose sprays, inhalers  and antihistamines will be more effective if you don’t wait until you’re symptomatic before starting.
  4. Be a little skeptical about what you hear on social media and TV about allergies. It’s been reported that some pollen counts, for instance, derive their values from geographic locations not even close to the Midwest. I’ve read newspaper articles that suggest the only form of treatment for allergies is to stay inside! Nothing could be further from the truth–despite your allergies, I want you to enjoy the Fall; picnic season won’t last forever.