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Sneezing? Pin blame on sagebrush

20% of Utahns coping with shrub's pollen level

Deseret Morning News graphic

Gesundheit. Need a tissue?

Approximately one in five Utah residents is coping with allergies to a very high sagebrush pollen count, according to Intermountain Allergy & Asthma. That means 20 percent of the state's population has some form of allergic reaction to the pollen, which floats on air unseen and can cause sneezing, runny noses and itchy, watery, burning eyes.

Sagebrush produces one of the most common and irksome pollens in Utah, said Carol Maw, an administrator for Intermountain Allergy & Asthma. Pollen from that plant technically will be in season until the temperature drops below 29 degrees and snow falls.

"That's what it takes to go away," Maw said.

Pollens that cause allergies are usually wind-blown. The pollen on flowers — "things that are pretty and smell nice," Maw said — is too heavy for wind to carry. Trees, grass and weeds produce the most common pollens in Utah.

Maw's colleagues collect pollen with a roto rod, a small machine that takes air samples every 10 minutes for 24 hours. At the end of the 24 hours, a worker puts the vial of samples under a microscope and counts each speck of pollen. Some seasons, cottonwood pollen claims the dubious distinction of having the highest count. Other times, it's grass. Now, it's sagebrush.

Allergy symptoms often mimic those of a common cold, except that a cold usually wanes after a few days and allergies can last for weeks. Often, people unintentionally exacerbate allergies with their daily habits. Exercising outdoors, leaving car windows down and opening house windows can expose sufferers to additional woe.

Maw suggests that people wash their hair after exercising outdoors or spending significant time outside.

"You've got this wonderful pollen collector on top of your head," she said. "Then, when you rub your head across your pillow, you're rubbing pollen on your pillow and then rubbing your face in it all night."

Allergy sufferers have a bevy of over-the-counter and prescription remedies available to them. Maw suggests seeing a board-certified allergist for a complete diagnosis and treatment plan.

"If you can combine effective medications and the avoidance techniques, you can get along really well," Maw said. "All you want (is) just to not be looking like you're bawling all day long."


E-mail: kswinyard@desnews.com