So, I'm allergic to NM, will it be the same in WA?
June 25, 2014 3:22 PM   Subscribe

My allergist says I'm allergic to a lot of stuff that grows around this area (like, highly allergic). The altitude isn't helping. I've had a chronic sinus infection since soon after I moved to NM, and no amount of medication has made it go away. It's been a two year battle and I really want to breathe normally again. Now, I know YANMD, but I have a couple of questions about allergies...

I finally got my blood test results back from the allergist (they didn't do the skin prick test because I didn't react to their test pricks), and it appears that I'm highly allergic to the the following things:

Juniper (numbers were off the charts for Juniper)
Dust mites (about half as bad as the Juniper)
Pet dander (about the same as the dust)
and various other stuffs, but those are the worst.

I'm on yet another antibiotic for the sinus infection, and two more meds for the breathing. Fourth antibiotic this year alone, and fifth (and sixth) meds for the breathing. Still having bad air days (it's been over a week...).

Okay, I have pets. They're not going away no matter where I move, but I know how to keep the dander down inside the house - no carpets, brush 'em outside, bathe them as often as is healthy for them, keep them off the furniture and out of the bedroom, etc...

Same with dust mites - HEPA filters, keep the pets out of the bedroom, no carpets, and so on...

The question I have is about the Juniper mostly, since it seems to be the worst offender. I forgot to ask the allergist this, but if I'm allergic to Juniper does that mean I'm allergic to all pine trees? I have Pinyons in my front yard too, but they didn't test me for Pinyon allergy. I tried Googling it, but my Google-fu is failing me. I didn't seem to have any problems with the ones in Mississippi, but they were few and far between and not as concentrated as they are here. Juniper is everywhere here. Every house on my block has Juniper bushes and my back yard is lined with them. Probably because it is drought resistant and easy to care for.

I've mentioned in previous posts that we're planning on moving to Seattle, WA. I'm hoping that the lower altitude, higher humidity, and lack of dust will help with the breathing thing. I also realize -- because I've moved so often -- that no matter where I move, I'm going to be allergic to something. I understand that. It's just a fact of life. The severity of the allergies here, though, have been amazingly difficult to live with. I mean, to the point where walking from one room to the other has become a monumental task some days. It's not a pretty picture. Not only that, but sinus headaches trigger migraines for me. I don't like it.

Anyway, I lived in the Puget Sound area twice: in the late 80's early 90's and again from '97-'99. I had no difficulties breathing back then. None whatsoever. However! I didn't develop asthma until '95 (last time I lived here in NM), so there's that...

Back to the question, I get conflicting information that Juniper doesn't grow north of Colorado, but another site tells me that it's in WA (but not as bad in Western WA). Circumstances have us moving up there no matter what, I just want to know what to expect. Am I going to be fighting this war with my lungs up there, or will it be a smaller battle? Obviously YANMD and you're not my allergist, but if it's just Juniper I'm reacting to and not every pine/evergreen on the planet, that'll be a relief to me -- in more ways than one.
posted by patheral to Health & Fitness (17 answers total)
I bring this up only because my own doctors missed it at the time but I'm 95% sure in retrospect that this was my problem, if further south than you: Are you 100% positive that what you're dealing with isn't Valley Fever? I had some allergies that were tweaked by living down there, but I'm pretty sure at this point that the more serious health problems weren't really my allergies, they were a recurring fungal infection that turns out to be pretty much endemic, and what I've been told is that people from out of the area are more likely to get it than locals. If it's that, then getting out of the southwest should get you clear, at least.
posted by Sequence at 3:39 PM on June 25, 2014

Good news is that juniper (in the Cupressaceae family) and pine (in the Pinaceae family) do not cross react! Here is some info on the trees that are in that family. Pine is not listed since it's not a strong inducer of allergies, as their pollens are heavy and fall to the ground rather than stay around in the air.
posted by slomodinkens at 3:41 PM on June 25, 2014

Junipers aren't pines, they're in the cypress family fwiw
posted by fshgrl at 3:42 PM on June 25, 2014

If you're not allergic to mildew and mold then Seattle will probably be better for you simply because the perpetual dampness reduces the amount of particulates blowing around in the air.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:59 PM on June 25, 2014

I had a lot of allergies (dust, pollen, probably mites) back on the east coast that cleared up substantially when I moved out here.

There are a week or two in a spring in which the weather gets humid and you can smell the flora-sex in the air (it's not unpleasant)-- I'm not entirely sure whether the it's the humidity that's enhancing my sense of small (as moisture does), or the trees are timing their activity to the humid time. People who get pollen-sneezy tend to do it then, but it hasn't affected me unless I get a snootfull from the occasional tree+breeze double-whammy.

I also used to have asthma which resulted in some crippling attacks when I was around 10-12 in Virginia, including a hospitalization. Out here I don't get anything like asthma except for occasional wheezing when I'm already sick. My rescue inhaler has a layer of dust on it. (yes, I keep the meds current.) Without being a qualified doctor of any kind, I would recommend, based on my experience, that anyone with allergies related to inhaled substances should move out here. Bonus: fewer bugs that most places. The only juniper I know of is in a martini.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:00 PM on June 25, 2014

Sequence, I've been tested for Valley Fever, and it came back negative. So I'm 90% sure it's not Valley Fever (it sure presents as Valley Fever though...)
posted by patheral at 4:04 PM on June 25, 2014

Okay, to change the question, if I'm allergic to one cypress, does that mean I'm allergic to all cypress trees? I had a hell of a time in Virginia, home of the Great Dismal Swamp (lots of cypress trees).
posted by patheral at 4:06 PM on June 25, 2014

Maybe consider getting allergy shots once you get to Washington state? Dust mites are everywhere, and I would expect there may be some stuff native to the area you may react to. It usually takes a few years when you move to a place for allergies to reveal themselves, so wait and see how you do over the next couple of years, but if you start getting sick again I would seriously consider getting the shots.
posted by gudrun at 4:41 PM on June 25, 2014

FWIW, I live in Western Washington was just came home from a walk. The cottonwood fluff looked like snow in the air and drifts of it on the ground. Highly unpleasant! It's been in the air for a few weeks around here.
posted by Cloudberry Sky at 4:51 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I live in South Puget Sound and yeah, there are a few juniper here and there when they've been planted on purpose, but you'll have to reckon with cottonwood for sure. (The good news is you can SEE when it's coming and so you know it's not just you being crazy, I guess.)

I have been really happy with my asthma/allergy care at Virginia Mason Hospital, fyi.

They're starting to find Valley Fever up here. Currently only in Eastern WA (and mostly/only in farmworkers, of course) from what I've heard, but still -- ugh.
posted by librarina at 7:27 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

My situation back in the early 90's was that I had lived in La. my entire life and I was very allergic to many, many things in La. I could barely function.

I moved to Pa., lived in spring fed town, and slowly improved. It helps to live somewhere where it gets cold enough for everything to die once a year. Gives you a fighting chance.

I am now back in La. with less symptoms than before but I have to be careful still.

When my stress level is down and I am on my restrictive diet (I have food sensitivities as well), then my allergy issues is much better.

It is also better when I can exercise but, to exercise in La. requires me to take Singulair which makes me fat so, since I don't want to be the only person in the word who gets fat by exercising, I keep things as moderate as possible.
posted by myselfasme at 8:25 PM on June 25, 2014

Allergies in New Mexico are truly special indeed. I have lived and sneezed in several parts of the country, including NM, CO, and the Pacific Northwest, and never suffered more from allergy and sinus problems than when I lived in Santa Fe. Even suddenly having to adjust to living with a cat was easier than dealing with your average spring day in NM. Of course I can't say anything for sure about your specific situation, but I wouldn't be surprised if things were to improve significantly once you relocate. Best of luck!
posted by mustard seeds at 9:57 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is just anecdotal but I have what is normally mild-to-moderate asthma, induced by allergies. The time I went to visit family in New Mexico was the only time I ever had to be hospitalized for asthma.

I've also visited the Pacific Northwest plenty of times and never had any problems.
posted by Jess the Mess at 8:35 AM on June 26, 2014

Maybe consider getting allergy shots once you get to Washington state? Dust mites are everywhere, and I would expect there may be some stuff native to the area you may react to.

The allergist suggested allergy shots because not one of the meds we've tried has helped with this. However, since we're moving I'll have to hold off on that. I mean, allergy shots are a huge commitment and as you pointed out, they may not be necessary up there...

It usually takes a few years when you move to a place for allergies to reveal themselves, so wait and see how you do over the next couple of years, but if you start getting sick again I would seriously consider getting the shots.

I keep hearing that it takes years to develop allergies to a particular place, but I've only been here for two years, total, and this breathing thing has been going on since like, a month or two after I moved here. It began as moderate shortness of breath (like when you walk too fast) and I contributed it to the altitude, but it got progressively worse as time went by. I'm fairly sure it's a combination of altitude, allergies, and the lack of humidity. If Juniper is my worst offender and it's not as prevalent in WA, then I can breathe a little easier.
posted by patheral at 9:49 AM on June 26, 2014

Have you seen an ENT or had a CT scan to make sure there aren't any other underlying issues contributing to you constant sinus infections?

If you're getting infections nearly once a month, I'm wondering if the antibiotics you are taking are not effectively getting rid of the infection and/or you have another underlying issue going on with your nose/sinuses.

If you haven't tried an antihistamine nose spray, they can be really helpful. I believe dymista is a combination nasal steroid + antihistamine--it's prescription only, but might be something to ask your allergist about.
posted by inertia at 11:33 AM on June 26, 2014

I haven't seen an ENT and since our moving plans are up in the air, I probably won't until after we move. I did have an CT scan done by the allergy clinic. I've tried four different antibiotics for the nasal infections. Two given to me by my GP and two given to my by the allergy clinic. I've also tried over the last two years:
two different nasal antihistamines
two different nasal corticosteroids
two different inhaled corticosteroids
the spiriva I'm on now
shoving saline water up my nose every night
and a partridge in a pear tree.

I'm really tired of trying stuff. ^_^
I just want to breathe normally again.

You have to realize I have comorbid issues that interfere with the steroids and the antihistamines. Sometimes the side effects were rather spectacular. There are some meds I can't take, and others that don't play well with the meds I take for my thyroid, bipolar and other issues. Going on the prednisone, for example was very risky because of the bipolar. This is another game of med-go-round, that I'm trying to avoid by moving to a place where, hopefully, I won't be reacting to my environment as violently as I am to New Mexico.
posted by patheral at 11:03 AM on June 27, 2014

I understand, patheral. I do know that underlying sinus issues like nasal polyps or infected adenoids, or a deviated septum can contribute to the sinus infection cycle. I think that would have shown up in a CT scan, but IANAD.

I know in my case, I have some terrible environmental allergies, a deviated septum, but the amount of sinus infections/sinus headaches leading to migraines I got seemed to seriously increase when I started getting nasal polyps, and adenoid infections. After years of sinus issues, I eventually had surgery, and feel much, much better, and no more sinus infections. I still have allergies, but they don't lead to the sinus infection cycle of hell anymore.

Good luck, I hope you feel better soon.
posted by inertia at 12:50 PM on June 27, 2014

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