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The Nose Knows: As Winter Exits, Nevada Spring Allergies Heat Up

Edna, Gil and Amit Cukierman, Fox Chase Cancer Center

Pollen grains under a high-powered microscope.

Sometime between winter and spring, another season starts in Nevada — allergy season.

Pollen levels have already started inching up at both ends of the state, even though Reno is still seeing snow and Las Vegas has been cold.

“Pollens can start up here as early as the end of January, with juniper,” said Dr. Leonard Shapiro, an allergist who opened his Reno practice in 1974.

The season typically peaks starting in mid-March and plants pollinate until the temperature reaches the high 90s.

Shapiro said it’s difficult to make a precise estimate of what pollen season will bring, but winter weather provides a rough guide.

“Usually when we have a wet winter, plants grow well during the spring and summer,” Shapiro told State of Nevada. “And it usually makes for a bad allergy season for the patients; a good allergy season for the doctors.”

Winter was mild in Reno for the early part of the season but the new year has seen a series of storms. In Las Vegas, it was generally a mild winter except for a brief hard freeze.

The pollen count is on the rise in Southern Nevada, but mulberry and olive trees — among the worst allergy offenders — have yet to bloom.

“Right now what we are counting is not in high numbers,” said Asma Tahir, who supervises the Clark County School District/UNLV pollen monitoring program. She said mulberry should be producing heavy levels of pollen by the end of the month.

To get the official Las Vegas pollen reading, Tahir and her team collect samples from several locations around the valley and study them at a university lab.

“We manually count each pollen by hand under the microscope, every day of the year,” she said.

She is expecting a high bloom of pollen at the end of February and the beginning of March just like last year.

Tahir said people who suffer from allergies need to be aware of where they're living and what they're living next to. For example, older neighborhoods in the Las Vegas Valley are more likely to have mulberry and olive trees. 

As far as solutions, Dr. Shapiro said over-the-counter treatments like Benedryl work but they can make someone drowsy.

"It's much better to use the long-acting, non-drowsy anti-histamines," he said, for example, Loratadine, which is the ingredient in Alavert and Claritin; Fexofenadine, which is in Allegra.

Shapiro said allergy sufferers can also try nasal sprays and eye drops but he cautioned people to be careful not to use them as a long-term solution.

Asma Tahir, CCSD/UNLV Pollen Program Supervisor; Dr. Leonard Shapiro, Reno allergist

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.