Sneezing and Suffering This Spring Season a Trade Off For More Greenery in Kern County

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Kern County has been dealing with dry and dusty conditions over the past 5 years, but the wet winter this year had a significant impact on our environment. Many are sneezing and suffering, and the reasoning behind that goes beyond our poor air quality. 

Roxanne Kolodziej is just one of many that suffer from bad allergies. She originally noticed allergies affecting her when she was a teen, and moving to Bakersfield from Illinois 4 years ago didn't make it any easier. 

"I do spend a lot of time outside," she says. She spends time outside in her garden, something that she loves to do, but one that can irritate her. 

"There are certain plants that I would stay away from because of the allergic reaction that I would have from it," Kolodziej says.

People can have allergies just from brief exposure outside. Dr. Paula Ardron, Chief of Allergy at Kaiser Permanente, treats patients with a variety of different allergies. 

"We see people that just like to spend a lot of time outside, so we don't want their allergies to act as a barrier for them," she says. "I'd rather them not feel like they have to live in a bubble."

While this is the goal, getting outside and enjoying Kern County has pushed many people to seek treatment. 

"There's just been a huge change as far as how many patients we've been seeing," says Courtney Hanson with Kern Allergy Medical Clinic, who says they have been extra busy this year with people filling their office everyday looking for treatment.

So what's really causing the bad allergy season this spring? It's all due to the wet winter that brought dead trees and grasses back to life. In turn, that caused more pollen to be released into the air and into our bodies.

"With more rain, you get more flora and fauna, so more pollen in the air," Dr. Ardron says. "This time of year, grass pollen and tree pollen are a big thing."

White Forest Nursery in East Bakersfield has been reaping the benefits of a wet winter and lush spring, but co-owner, Jere White, says his customers may be putting their allergies at risk, planting trees in their yard that can release pollen all around the home and then travel with the wind.

"If you have a small flower, that pollen is not going to go very far and you have to get that nose pretty close to be a problem, whereas the tree is everywhere, it's covering you, so we want to be careful what kind of trees we select for our own residences," White says. 

He says that the most common trees people have allergies to are oak, maple, and mulberry trees, but the main goal is to find out which trees and plants you are allergic to, so you can avoid planting those in your own garden.

You may be wondering what makes Kern County such a great breeding ground for allergies? The pollen from the north moves south into the Central Valley, and it settles here. There's nowhere for it to escape, because of the topography with the mountains. The pollution acts like a lid over the valley and it prevents allergens from escaping. Experts say it's hard to sometimes tell the difference between a common cold and allergies.

"The big thing is if somebody has itching...itching of the eyes, the nose, the throat, the ears. That's the major symptom that tells us that it's allergic disease that's going on.

What can you do to limit these allergy symptoms? Dr. Ardron says to close windows in your home, take showers at night to wash pollen out of hair, and wash your pets regularly so they aren't bringing pollen indoors with them. She also recommends trying options like sinus rinses, antihistamines, and nasal steroids. 

"If those don't help, that's when we recommend doing skin testing, because we can identify the specific allergen they're having trouble with and consider allergy injections as an option," Dr. Ardron says.

And that's exactly what Roxanne Kolodziej did to combat her allergies. 

"I come in every other week to get my allergy shots done all year round. Since doing the shots, I'm fine," she says.

Allergies will always be a factor for those living in the South Valley, so the goal is to control the everyday symptoms so they will not turn into a more serious condition like a sinus infections or asthma.

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