A common question from patients who suffer with allergies is, “Is there a place I can move to, so I won’t have allergies?” As allergists, we know that if you’re not exposed to what you’re allergic to, you won’t have symptoms like sneezing, nose running or worse.
So, is there any state or region where you can live to avoid exposure to allergens? The short answer is no. Let’s examine this further.
In the U.S., we have tree pollens in the early spring, grass pollens in the late spring and early summer and weed pollens in the early fall. Let’s say you live in Atlanta and are allergic to pecan tree pollen, which arrives in the early spring. You could move to an area of the country like the Northwest U.S. where this pollen is not a major problem. That should cure your allergy, right? Yes, but unfortunately there are many other tree pollens in the Northwest U.S. And since you have a genetic tendency to develop allergies, you may get “sensitized” to these other pollens over time, meaning you’ll become sensitive and develop an allergic reaction.
Usually it takes two to three seasons of exposure to a particular pollen before most people will become sensitive. I know many college students who attend university in an area where the pollen to which they are allergic is not in the air. The first couple of years may be the best they’ve ever had in terms of being allergy-free. Then in their junior or senior years, symptoms re-develop, as they now have reactions to the pollens in the air where they go to school. Remember that allergies can occur at any age. If you are older and want to retire to an area of the country where the pollens you’re allergic to aren’t found, you could still could become sensitized to different allergens in the new area over time.
Why not move to the Southwest U.S. and live in the desert? That could work, but the problem is that many people want a yard with grass and trees. Even if there are none of these in the immediate vicinity of your home, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, pollens travel through the air and certain tree pollens can travel for hundreds of miles. While you could choose to live in Death Valley, for most people that is not a viable option.
What about indoor allergens? If you are allergic to cats or dogs, it doesn’t matter what part of the country you live in if those pets are in your home. House dust mites, which trigger major allergies, are usually found in areas of the country where the weather is hot and humid with a low elevation. You could move to areas of the US where mites can’t survive. Let’s say you have a house dust mite allergy and live in New Orleans. You could move to Denver where mite levels are very low, but you would still be at a risk of developing other allergies in that part of the country. So moving could prove to be just be a short-term solution. Also, most people have allergies to multiple things, so simply avoiding house dust mites may not make you symptom-free.
Every year, the Allergy and Asthma Foundation publishes a list of the most and least challenging cities for people with spring and fall allergies. Based on the list, you may think you should move to one of the least challenging places, like Durham, North Carolina; Provo, Utah; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; or Portland, Oregon. All of these would be great cities to live in, but are they really “low allergy” towns? There are many board-certified allergists practicing in all these places. If people in those cities did not have allergies, there would not be a reason for any allergist to practice there.
For almost all people suffering from allergies, packing your belongings and moving is not going to solve your problem. You may want to get help from your board-certified allergist if over-the-counter medications like oral antihistamines and intranasal corticosteroids don’t work well for your hay fever. Along with common avoidance techniques and prescription medication, an allergist may recommend allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots) to try to desensitize you to the things to which you are allergic to provide long term relief. So, move to another area of the U.S. if you want to, but don’t count on the move getting rid of your allergies.
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