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As Sure As Spring Follows Winter, Pollen Arrives In Las Vegas

<p>Pollen as seen through an electron microscope.</p>
Dartmouth College Electron Microscope Facility via Wikimedia Commons

Pollen as seen through an electron microscope.

It’s hard to miss the transition from winter to spring in Las Vegas.

The days grow longer and warmer, and plants are roused from their winter slumber. That can only mean one thing: Pollen is on the way.

Las Vegas suffers from one of the highest spring pollen counts in the country, and the allergies that follow are a self-inflicted wound.

The major pollen offenders — particularly olive and mulberry trees — were brought to Southern Nevada decades ago for use in landscaping. While the pollen-producing varieties were banned 30 years ago, enough remain to leave Las Vegans sneezing until temperatures near triple-digits.

“In the central, older area of Las Vegas, we still have those plants," said Asma Tahir, supervisor of CCSD and UNLV Pollen Monitoring Program, "There was a ban on planting them but there was nothing about taking out the ones that are already planted.”

Mulberry trees can live for 40 to 50 years, Tahir said, and olive trees can live for hundreds of years. 

The biggest problem with mulberry is not that it is an especially potent allergen but there is just so much more of it than other trees that cause allergies, like ash trees.

“You will come across people that they are allergic to or they have allergies because of ash trees. They have allergies because of ragweed, but you don’t see ragweed or ash as much as compared to mulberry," she said, "It is the highest concentration that more than likely caused the problems.”

Mulberry is so bad that Tahir said some people have to leave town when the trees bloom. 

Usually, mulberry season starts at the end of February or early March. Olive follows that season. When the triple-digit temperatures arrive, the heat kills the pollen from trees.

But Tahir said Las Vegas causes a unique problem for allergy sufferers, because besides the spring season, it also has a fall season when ragweed blooms.

Tahir said that last year ash trees started blooming in late January, which is unusual. That did not happen this year.

“This year, it's February and so far we are not seeing anything out of the ordinary," she said, "So I’m thinking because of no rain probably we’re going into a spring but I don’t know if it's going to be a very short spring and we’re going to go into summer right away.”

She can say for sure, but it looks like this allergy season will be a typical year. 

To track the pollen, the monitoring program collects samples from six different stations around Southern Nevada and physically counts the tiny specks of pollen to see how much is in the air.

Tahir said mulberry starts to skyrocket with very little warning. One day she might count two mulberry pollens and the next there will 2,000 collected. 

There could be some help this year because of the mask mandate to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Tahir said a mask could be beneficial for allergy sufferers by keeping pollen out of their nose and mouth.

The first way to avoid pollen is to stay indoors, if possible, and keep your windows shut. Tahir also suggests showering before going to bed so you don't get pollen from your hair onto your pillow.

Pets can also drag pollen into a house. 

She also suggests changing the house's air filter frequently and changing clothes after coming into the house from outside.

Asma Tahir, supervisor, CCSD/UNLV Pollen Monitoring Program

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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.