Sweeping Down The Plain

Oklahoma is a unique state for those suffering from allergies.


Whether they are a seasonal nuisance or a year-round affliction, allergies can wreak havoc on daily lives. And unfortunately for Oklahomans, we may have it worse than others. The Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America ranked Oklahoma City fourth and Tulsa at 19 on its list of “The Most Challenging Places to Live with Spring Allergies.”

Dr. Rollie Rhodes, a board certified otolaryngologist and a founding partner of Eastern Oklahoma Ear, Nose & Throat in Tulsa, says there are several factors that make Oklahoma a prime place for spring allergies, or allergic rhinitis, such as relatively short and mild winters, wet springs to initiate and support seed growth and tree blossoming, and a longer growing season than in the northern and eastern states.

The child who has one parent with spring allergies has a 35 percent chance of developing the allergy themselves.”

“The predominant winds are from the south and the southwest that carry pollens into Oklahoma from New Mexico and Texas. We also have lots of wind in Oklahoma to blow the pollen around – consequently, we have plentiful vegetation, trees, grasses and weeds,” says Rhodes. “With a mild winter, spring allergy symptoms start as early as late February or early March and go on until late May or early June.”

He says that the typical spring allergens are primarily from trees, since the grasses don’t start pollinating until late May or June. For allergy sufferers, the most common symptoms include tearing eyes, congestion, stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing, itching of the ears, throat, nose and eyes, coughing and asthma.

Dr. Timothy Nickel, a board certified allergist and immunologist and a partner at the Allergy Clinic of Tulsa, explains that Tulsa is a confluence of several allergy regions. The area features northern pasture grasses like fescue or Timothy grass as well as some southern varieties, including Bermuda and Johnson grass. The list of Midwest-Eastern trees includes oak, ash, pecan and birch, and Southern trees like cedar and acacia. There is also plenty of ragweed and many western weeds, such as tumbleweed.

“Graphically, Green Country and other parts of the Midwest  – such as Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee – are all in the overlapping portion of a Venn diagram and have a wide variety of plentiful pollen,” says Nickel. “This is why Tulsa, Louisville, St. Louis, Birmingham and others are consistently at the top of the list. This list is not only based on the pollen count, but also the use of allergy medications and the number of allergy specialists per capita.”

While the environment plays a significant role in triggering symptoms, Rhodes says it’s noteworthy that heredity plays a big part in allergy development.

“The child who has one parent with spring allergies has a 35 percent chance of developing the allergy themselves,” says Rhodes. “If both parents have allergies, there is a 70-75 percent likelihood of developing allergies in that individual. Approximately 20 to 30 percent of the population has allergic rhinitis, depending on the area in which one lives.”

If you’re miserable and moving isn’t in the future, it may be time to seek professional help.

If allergies, despite over-the-counter medications, are negatively impacting your life – if you’re experiencing asthma symptoms, tired of taking multiple medications or suffering from recurring sinus infections or chronic sinusitis – then it may be time for an evaluation by an allergy or sinus specialists, says Nickel.

“The quality of life of the severe allergy phenotype is horribly underestimated, even by many physicians,” says Nickel. “Chronic congestion, sneezing and nasal drainage can interfere with sleep for weeks and sometimes months out of the year. It can affect work and puts a patient at risk for recurrent sinus infections. This can occur even when patients are on aggressive medical therapy.”