Lizz Podsim has lived with allergies for almost her entire life, taking medication and limiting her time outdoors so she doesn’t have to deal with constant headaches, fatigue and congestion.
The only break? A five-year period when she moved away from Victoria.
Podsim is allergic to a range of different pollens and allergens but said she experienced the fewest symptoms when she lived in La Grange. Since moving back to Victoria a few years ago, Podsim and her husband have been adjusting their lives to avoid the complications of asthma and allergies as they raise their 14-month-old daughter.
For the Podsims, that means a lot of symptoms and a lot of time indoors. They also make sure to vacuum their carpets regularly and try to avoid strong fragrances or irritants in detergents and other products.
“We don’t get to go outside a lot because one of us is always sniffling,” she said. “We’re just trying to avoid triggers.”
Seasonal allergies, which are among the dozens of irritants that affect Podsim, are common in the Crossroads, where offending plants, trees and grasses grow almost year-round.
Beverly Haliburton, an advanced practice registered nurse with the Victoria Allergy and Asthma Clinic, explained that because of the area’s warm, humid climate, there’s very little rest period for people who are allergic to airborne pollens.
“Because of the condition and the warmth and the rain of this climate, we have growing plants all year-round unless we have a freeze,” she said.
Haliburton, who has worked at the Victoria clinic for about 11 years, said there’s no such thing as a “slow season” for allergies in the area.
Nationwide, the number of people who suffer from allergies is increasing. CDC data shows between 1997 and 1999, food allergies affected about 3.4% of kids in the U.S. Between 2009 and 2011, an estimated 5.1% percent had food allergies, an increase of more than 50% in a decade.
One of the leading theories as to why so many people in the U.S. are increasingly suffering from allergies is known as the “hygiene hypothesis.” The theory, which has been backed by research, posits that the sanitary and largely indoor conditions of modern life reduce our exposure to germs, which inhibits an immune system’s ability to distinguish between what’s actually harmful and what’s not. Allergies occur when a person’s immune system reacts to a harmless substance as if it were a intruder, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Dr. Rene Leon, an allergist in Dallas, explained that this theory posits that the rise in allergies is linked to our changing lifestyle.
“There’s an increase in allergic disease in general,” Leon said. “It has a lot to do with our lifestyle and being indoors and so much more clean now that our immune system is not fully developed.”
But for allergies that aren’t seasonal and are linked to things like animal dander, mites, roaches and food, the reason for a nationwide increase is less clear.
Asthma is another factor that affects Crossroads residents with allergies. The humid climate, which makes mold more likely to form and to stick around in living environments, triggers asthma.
Hurricane Harvey, which doused thousands of Texas homes and left hard-to-eliminate mold behind it, was of particular concern for public health workers after it blew through Texas. It’s unclear what connection there might be between allergies and natural disasters like hurricanes, but researchers at Baylor University Medical School in Houston are trying to figure out whether Hurricane Harvey and the mold it brought to flooded homes might have caused some Houston residents to suffer worse allergy symptoms than normal.
Haliburton said there is no local data behind whether Harvey caused an increase in allergy symptoms among Victoria residents but said the August 2017 hurricane was followed by a spring season that produced lots of pollen and that anecdotal evidence indicated an uptick in allergy sufferers after the storm.
For the Baylor study, participants wore special wristbands that could detect toxins or other irritants in the air of their houses. Researchers also took samples from the participants and their homes to detect mold spores and other allergens.
As rates of allergies continue to grow throughout the U.S., there’s still no cure, although a range of medicines and shots are available to help alleviate symptoms. Haliburton said she has patients who had become used to being miserable only to find relief after discovering what irritant was upsetting them and how to abate it.
Haliburton urges anyone who thinks they might be suffering from allergies to seek medical help.
“Don’t suffer. Don’t suffer,” she said. “You don’t have to, and there is help and health out there for you.”