N.O., BR make list of nation's top 20 allergenic cities

Baton Rouge’s new title as one of America’s sneeziest cities probably won’t be seen in tourism ads anytime soon.

The Baton Rouge area ranks No. 3 on this spring’s list of “Allergy Capitals” by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, moving up from 10th place last year.

Only No. 1 Louisville, Ky., and Memphis, Tenn., beat out the Red Stick on its list of the worst 100 metropolitan areas for outdoor allergy sufferers. New Orleans came in at No. 18.

“A lot of it has to do with our climate,” says Dr. Joseph Redhead, an allergist with 20 years of experience at the Baton Rouge Clinic. “I tell people that, essentially, you live in a swamp.”

Baton Rouge’s ranking reflects a high pollen count from last spring and two other factors — the number of allergy-related medicines purchased in the area and the number of allergy doctors in the city.

With so many warm, humid months, south Louisiana has a long growing season, “so there is almost always pollen in the air,” Redhead says.

Tree pollen starts in the late winter and early spring, then grass pollen takes over. By the late summer, weed pollen begins to dominate, he says.

Plus, airborne pollen particles can travel 500 miles, says Sanaz Eftekhari, an Asthma and Allergy Foundation spokeswoman, so the Capital City can collect pollen from multiple Southern states.

Adding to all that pollen, mold causes many allergy sufferers grief when it thrives in the fall, and dust mites constantly thrive in high humidity, Redhead says.

About 45 million Americans suffer from nasal allergies, according to the AAFA.

“Some people don’t really think of allergies as a serious disease,” Eftekhari says, “but it is a chronic condition of the immune system.”

Each year the foundation creates the list to encourage those with allergies to do something about it.

“We’re trying to get people to be more proactive instead of dealing with the consequences of their allergies,” says Eftekhari. “They can be proactive and go to their doctors to come up with a specialized treatment plan.”

Avoid allergens

The simplest way to control allergies is to stay away from those substances that cause a reaction.

“Sometimes that’s simple,” Redhead says. “If you’re allergic to penicillin, you don’t take penicillin. That’s easy.”

But seasonal allergies are difficult to avoid.

“If you’re allergic to things outdoors, like tree pollen and grass pollen, which is out now, that’s pretty difficult to avoid,” Redhead says. “Essentially you try to keep it outdoors when you’re indoors.”

Treat the symptoms

Allergy medicine has come a long way in the past two decades, says Redhead. Early allergy medication, such as Benadryl, caused drowsiness.

More than a dozen antihistamine pill options are available now, the physician says, and several — including Claritin and Allegra — are former prescription drugs now available over the counter.

“Bear in mind that allergy medications don’t cure allergies,” he says. “They merely block the symptoms of allergies.”

These medicines affect everyone differently, Redhead says, so one product “may be your best pill, but it doesn’t work for me. It may be a little trial and error.”

If these do not work, an allergist can prescribe a “suppressive” nose spray or pill that doesn’t act as fast but helps with chronic allergy issues.

Take a shot

Allergy shots were most common 20 to 25 years ago, Redhead says, before modern non-drowsy antihistamines developed, and they’re still one of the best treatments.

The regimen of shots helps the body get accustomed to allergens. It works for 80 to 90 percent of patients, Redhead says.

Treating allergies with immunotherapy takes time. It works slowly, and the patient must consistently take the shots.

“But it does remain the only treatment that actually treats the disease and will, therefore, change the course of anybody’s allergies long-term,” Redhead says. “In other words, it is the only thing that will reduce allergies or otherwise cure allergies.”