Moving to a different city can give you a fresh start. Yet a move can also set off new allergy symptoms, even if you never suffered from allergies in the past. Before you leave, consider which allergens you’ll encounter in your new home, and work out a plan for combating symptoms before they start.
Some areas are notorious for provoking allergies. Each fall and spring, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America compiles a list of allergy capitals — cities with the highest pollen counts, number of allergy doctors, and allergy medicines used. In years past, Louisville, Ky.; Jackson, Miss.; and Memphis, Tenn., have all made the cut. Looking through the last few years’ lists can give you an idea of whether your future hometown is likely to be a source of allergy aggravation.
If you live in one of these allergy hot zones and are considering moving for the sole purpose of preventing symptoms, you might be disappointed. While the pollen count can vary from one part of the country to another, no area is immune to allergens. You’ll likely just exchange one set of triggers for another.
That said, the type of community in which you live might affect the severity of your symptoms. A study in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology suggested that moving to a rural, farming area might help people avoid allergies. The idea is that exposure to a variety of bacteria, pollen, and other irritants in the environment desensitizes the immune system, making a future reaction less likely. Yet allergy prevention alone isn’t justification for abandoning city life, the lead author notes. “We cannot…simply recommend that people who suffer from allergies and hypersensitivities move to farms. Because they may also suffer from lung diseases such as asthma and would therefore become more ill due to the high concentrations of dust and particles found in stables and in agriculture in general,” said Grethe Elholm, PhD, of Aarhus University in Denmark.
While a rural existence might help you avoid allergy symptoms, moving close to a congested highway or manufacturing plant could have the opposite effect. Research suggests pollutants can make airborne allergens more potent, potentially worsening seasonal allergy symptoms. To see if pollution is a problem where you’re moving, check the American Lung Association’s Most Polluted Cities list.
One way to gauge how much you’ll sneeze at your destination is to spend time there in both fall and spring — each season produces different allergy-provoking plant life. Also investigate the region’s vegetation — which trees and plants are most common there. If you’re particularly sensitive to pine trees and your new neighborhood is filled with them, you’ll know you need to stock up on allergy medicines.
As a defensive move, make an appointment with an allergist once you arrive. Allergy tests can determine your triggers and whether they match the allergens in the area. The allergist can help you develop an allergy plan, which might include medicine to combat symptoms and allergy shots to desensitize you to your triggers. Make sure to share your medical records so your new doctor knows your allergy history.
When evaluating potential allergens in your new home, consider more than the outdoor environment. Indoor air can teem with dust mites, pet dander, mold, and other irritating substances. If your home’s last owner was a smoker, you can even be exposed to leftover “thirdhand” smoke, according to one study. “We found that thirdhand smoke is trapped on surfaces like walls and ceilings and in household dust and carpets left over by previous residents,” said Georg Matt, a San Diego State University psychology professor and lead author of the study.
If you’re sensitive to any of these allergens, it might be a good idea to have the entire home — from carpets to drapes — deep cleaned before you arrive. And once you move, installing a high-energy particulate (HEPA) air filter in your home can trap irritants like dust and pollen before you can breathe them in and have an allergy attack.
March 21, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN