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SoCal's allergy season is never-ending and could get worse


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Spring has arrived in Southern California, and a lot of people are looking forward to spending more time outdoors, frolicking through the majesty of the spring bloom. 

But for an estimated 30 percent of the population, spring means deliberating which drug ad features the most robust-looking people and the least intimidating list of quickly rattled-off side effects.

We have the medical condition, Allergic Rhinitis, to thank for our sneezing, coughing and general state of grumpiness. For the unlucky few, our bodies freak out when exposed to trees, grasses and weeds — you know, because it's so easy to avoid those things while living on planet Earth. 

The immune system of an allergy sufferer treats plant pollens like a virus. So the body gets confused by the foreign presence of pollen and kind of attacks itself, much like when you get a cold.  

As one of these poor, unfortunate souls, I've spent years sneezing on my keyboard every morning to the dismay of my cubicle mates. I wanted answers.

To help you get the picture, this is me if I were a bunch of cats:

So, I asked a fancy allergy doctor, 'What exactly in Southern California is waging war on my sinuses? And what did I do to deserve this?' Sadly, Dr. Shijun Cindy Xi could only help me with the former. 

Dr. Xi teaches at USC's Keck School of Medicine and treats sad sacks like me every day. Maybe that's why she was so patient with my bitterly pointed questions about outdoor allergies in Southern California. 

She says the start of spring can trigger allergies, but it's not the big, beautiful flowers like roses that are to blame. Flower pollen typically travels by bees. It's the pollens that travel by wind that cause the most trouble. 

Dandelion seeds blow in the wind.
Dandelion seeds blow in the wind.

This season, grasses are the culprit. At last, the grass is not greener on the other side. "We're starting to go into grass season right now," Dr. Xi said. "Weeds are really summer and early fall. And trees are mostly winter and early spring."

As I heard Dr. Xi say these words, an alarming realization set in. My vision narrowed and my heart quickened.

You mean to tell me allergy season never ends? I attempted to ask Dr. Xi this while maintaining some level of professionalism, but the sad news was too painful to bear. 

In short, people like me who are allergic to grasses, weeds, and trees, we don't get a break when spring and summer end. Southern California's warm climate means there's pretty much always something sending pollen my way. 

And don't get me started on tree pollen. Trees are particularly problematic. Those suckers are determined to reproduce. "They're really adapted to travel for long distances," Dr. Xi said. "Sometimes hundreds or even thousands of miles to try and find that female counterpart."


Apparently, you can run but you cannot hide from tree pollen. 

Friends, the news gets worse. If you're like me and your symptoms are feeling a little worse than they used to, there could be a reason for that, other than the seasons.

"With climate change and with pollution, there's increased numbers of the same pollen," Dr. Xi said. "And then when the pollen interacts with air pollutants, they can actually cause more health problems." 

Great. The future will be hot and also sniffly. 

In case you're still struggling to imagine, here's me if I were a bunch of babies:

There is a chance of relief though. Doctor Xi says over-the-counter antihistamines can help, to a point. She recommends nasal sprays, too, but you have to be committed.

"I hear all the time that people have tried it,  it didn't work, they stopped using it but it really takes a week or two or using it on a regular basis before it starts working," Dr. Xi said.  "And if you do have seasonal allergies, using it before the season starts makes it the most effective." 

If you're looking for solution that doesn't involve medication, you can try the age-old tactic of nasal saline irrigation. I use something called a Nety Pot. It is both effective and terrifying. Be warned, when you're getting used to using it, you might feel like you're drowning yourself. Don't worry, that's perfectly normal.

When all else fails, Dr. Xi said it's best to see a doctor. Severe cases, especially those with asthma, will benefit from medical intervention. Regular injections can treat indoor and outdoor allergies with personalized immunotherapy.

We may as well take advantage of modern science. It took wearing silly looking things like this to get to where we are today. 

circa 1955:  A mask being used in a research programme for hayfever sufferers. Air pressure from the lungs is converted into an electrical current which gives an 'electrical pattern' useful for determining individual responses to pollen.  (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
circa 1955: A mask being used in a research programme for hayfever sufferers. Air pressure from the lungs is converted into an electrical current which gives an 'electrical pattern' useful for determining individual responses to pollen. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
Three Lions/Getty Images

To all the other allergy sufferers out there, stay strong.

I'll see you sorry folks in the tissue aisle.