Austin, Texas - Allergy Capital of the World

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Austin claims to be 'Live Music Capital of the World' (it's not). Many of its residents know it to be allergy capital of America - if not the western hemisphere - and that claim may not be quite so overblown. Every winter, along with half the population of Austin, Mrs Gosho suffers from cedar fever - sneezing, streaming nose and eyes, pounding headaches, and a complete loss of energy and motivation (not to mention the snoring). And now I've developed oak fever.

I used to get hayfever pretty bad in London, usually around June and July when the grass pollen is at its peak, but I pretty much grew out of it during my adolescence and for 25 years I had hardly any symptoms... until I washed up in south central Texas.

For the first few years I managed to stay free of allergies, but in March and April last year I found myself suffering from the same symptoms I used to get each year at school around exam time - sneezing, itchy eyes, a constantly runny nose, and that confounded itch right at the back of the palate. And this week it's all come back. I've noticed from the allergy reports on the local news channel that oak pollen has been off the scale for the past few days, which all leads me to the conclusion that as long as I stay here in Austin I'm going to have to go through this every spring.

I don't know why Austin should be so bad for allergies. True, there are an awful lot of trees in this city, but so there are in cities all over America and indeed, the world. And if it's the trees which are causing it, what about outlying areas where there are many more trees and much less development? I guess that doesn't get reported so much since the population density is nothing like that of a city or a large town. Us city types are such whingers, aren't we.

The Allergy Prevention Center puts Austin at number two in the top 50 allergy cities in the US, and you'll notice that the four largest cities in Texas - Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas-Fort Worth are all in the top 20. A different survey puts Austin at number four, but still places all four cities in the top 20. Must just be a Texas thing I reckon. Well, they do like to do everything bigger and better here don't they.

The allergy season in Austin starts in December with the dreaded cedar fever, which lasts right through until the middle of March. In January the elm trees start releasing their pollen, adding to the misery of many unlucky cedar fever sufferers. As those two wind down towards the end of February, oak season starts up, and in March the pecan trees join the party. Together they tickle the nose and eyes until May.

From May until November the city is relatively pollen free, although for most of the summer it wouldn't make a whole lot of difference anyway - from the beginning of July until the end of September hardly anyone ventures out of doors unless they absolutely have to because of the ferocious heat.

Around the end of October/beginning of November the ragweed starts getting all hot under the collar and pumping its pollen into the atmosphere, as does cedar elm, and come December, it's cedar season again!

Throughout the year moulds are also counted in the allergy forecast. Mould is a perennial problem in southern Texas, but it's at its height during the wettest times of the year - spring and autumn.

Of course, all these people with allergies makes Austin a rich environment for doctors and clinics specialising in allergic rhinitis (the posh name for a runny nose and sneezing caused by pollen). A side effect of that is the preponderance of drug trial clinics, who find a ready and willing pool of guinea pigs amongst the 50,000 or so students who study at UT (University of Texas at Austin), many of whom will do... almost anything for extra cash to help with their tuition. Clinical drug trials are big business in south central Texas.

So, if I plan on staying around here for any length of time it looks like I'm gonna have to stock up on handkerchieves and anti-hystamines. I've heard tell of an injection which costs $50 and keeps you sneeze-free for three months. It might almost be worth the side effects!


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