Austin allergy sufferers affected by Mexican fires


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist Erin Coker

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

Posted on May 20, 2013 at 5:35 PM

Updated Monday, May 20 at 5:41 PM

AUSTIN -- Austin is known almost as much for allergies as it is live music.  However, at the moment, most allergens are taking a break, so what's still causing the respiratory difficulty and itchy, watery eyes? Doctors say it's giant agricultural fires south of the border.

It's not just a case of the Monday's casting a pall over Central Texas. It's a case of smoke and haze coming from Mexico.  

"We see this every spring," said Allen Lieberman, M.D., an allergist and immunologist with the Allergy and Asthma Center of Austin. "It's almost like clockwork."

Allergists say the agricultural fires south of our border are a yearly rite of spring that's sure to irritate their patients' respiratory membranes.

"The oak pollen goes away, and everyone thinks they're okay for a while with their allergens," said Lieberman. "The allergies are actually very low, but people are miserable right now. People can tell you there's something in the air. If you look at the pollen counts, it's not pollen."  

"For me it's the running nose and itchy eyes and that sort of thing," said Kristie Johnson, a Cedar Park resident who sufferes with allergies.

Johnson came to the Allergy and Asthma Center of Austin because she knew something wasn't right.

"I noticed my allergies are worse," she said. "I was down at Padre (Island) for a week. My allergies were better, and I get back and they're worse."

"You can see the haze in the morning," said Lieberman. "It's not at a point right now where in some years you could go outside and smell it. It smells like there's a fireplace outside, so it's not at that level. What it is, it's an irritant on the membranes. What most people have is congestion and irritation in the nose. People can really feel it right now that their symptoms are picking up."

Lieberman says if the winds were to die down, the hazy conditions will get worse. However, he says even the slightest bit of rain will help get most of the smokey particulates out of the air -- at least temporarily.

Lieberman says asthma patients are the most adversely affected, and the key for them and all allergy sufferers during these hazy conditions is to remain on their medications.

He says healthy people can avoid any adverse reactions simply by altering their routine a bit, such as running on a treadmill indoors instead of running outside.