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What Allergens Lurk in Your Neighborhood?
As the Las Vegas winter breaks and temperatures rise, local residents are treated to a cacophony of sniffles, sneezes, and coughs. It’s allergy season!
If you’re one of many who start to roll down your windows when it’s nice outside, what plants and trees should you avoid?
UNLV’s Pollen Monitoring Program — borne of a partnership three years ago with Clark County’s School District and Department of Air Quality to provide local pollen and mold spore information to community members — has got answers.
Every day, three UNLV staffers spend hours hand counting pollen collected from five stations spread across the Las Vegas Valley plus a control site in the desert. They publish the data on websites for UNLV and the National Allergy Bureau.
Las Vegas may only be ranked the 53rd worst city for spring allergy sufferers, but try telling that to locals and tourists who face the pharmacy-aisle blues twice a year — spring and fall — due to the sheer number of pollen-producing trees here. On top of that, climate change has moved the onset of spring weather and allergy season back earlier and earlier each year to its current place on the calendar, around late January or early February.
Using machines that mimic human breathing as they intake air and collect pollen on slides that can pinpoint by the hour which allergens were blowing in the air, UNLV researchers track 43 types of pollen and 29 forms of mold and whether their levels are low, moderate, high, very high, or absent.
While the centrally located pollen monitoring station atop the White Hall rooftop on UNLV’s campus is generally a good barometer for gauging air irritants valley-wide, lab researchers have noticed that some plants are more likely to be the source of suffering in certain areas versus others.
We caught up with new program supervisor Asma Tahir and former project supervisor Tanvi Patel, a recent Ph.D. graduate who still works with the program, to get insider notes on each neighborhood.
Station: Joe Neal Elementary
- Pine (March-June)
- Elm (October-November)
*Mulberry is prevalent in most Las Vegas neighborhoods — especially older ones — because of the city’s history, Patel said. In the 1960s, each home purchase included at least one of the invasive, drought-resistant trees to add greenery to the desert landscape. However, she said, 90 percent of the allergy-suffering population is allergic to the plant, which has deep roots that are hard to cut and sometimes run under homes causing plumbing issues.
This area typically sees no impact from fruitless olive trees. (European olive trees or those with fruit typically don’t cause allergy symptoms.)
Station: J.D. Smith Middle School
- Elm (spring and fall)
- Not typically seen: Olive
Station: Jerome Mack Middle School
- Elm (fall)
- Ash (spring)
- Pine (spring)
Station: Palo Verde High School
- Ash (spring)
- Sycamore (spring)
- Maple (spring)
- Elm (fall)
- Not typically seen: Mulberry
- Mulberry (March)
- Olive (late March to late April)
- Pine has also been prevalent this year. The pollen station at this site tends to collect the most diverse range of data, sometimes from as many as seven types of tree.
Station: Jean, Nevada
Tahir and Patel offered these tips for staying sneeze free.
- Take allergy medication before you go to bed so that it’s already in your body and working in the morning, when pollen levels tend to peak.
- When you enter your house, remove outdoor clothing and wash your hair to remove allergens.
- Keep your windows closed to keep pollen out.
- Use nasal spray or an air filtration machine. Be aware that some pollen grains may be too small for the machine to block.
- The rumor about ingesting local honey to act as a vaccine against allergens doesn’t work well in Las Vegas, as most sufferers are allergic to weeds or trees — non-flowering plants that honey-producing bees don’t touch.
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