A person blowing their nose into a tissue
By Nicole San Roman

Allergy Survival Guide

Tips for Coping with New Mexico’s Allergy Season

Ah, Spring in New Mexico... cue sounds of birds chirping, images of flowers opening, trees blooming, the sun shining brightly and then – record scratch – itchy, watery eyes, stuffy nose, sneezing fits and general feelings of awfulness.

It’s peak allergy season and guess what, New Mexico? The plants we have are very invasive when it comes to allergies.

Osman Dokmeci, MD, is an associate professor in The University of New Mexico’s Department of Internal Medicine. He’s also a Fellow of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

He says the weeds and shrub-like trees in our state create tiny, wind-pollinated allergens that pose big problems for allergy sufferers.

“Trees like juniper and its family, grass and weed pollens can travel lots and lots of miles with the wind that we have here,” he said. “Our wind is a big factor on allergies.”

Juniper is a top offender that starts to pollinate early in the season, Dokmeci says, usually around the second or third week of February and continues to wreak havoc on our sinuses.

“Juniper trees are a year-round or what we call perennial allergen that starts to pollinate early and doesn't stop until the first frost of the next year.”

Other top allergen offenders include cedar, cottonwood, poplar, elm and, depending on where you live, ash and olive trees.

Annoying allergy symptoms aside, long-term allergy sufferers could face more serious consequences down the line. Dokmeci says.

“Most of the time what people think about is bothersome symptoms of itchy and watery eyes, itchy runny nose, but think about asthma. It can be a big part of this equation.”

Studies show more than half of people who suffer from allergies will develop asthma later in life. “That’s a huge number,” he said. “You have to treat allergies early and as aggressively as possible, with the right medications and treatments. Allergies are no joke.”

So, what can we do? Here are Dokmeci’s top tips on surviving allergy season. 

No. 1 Allergy Test

No. 1 on the list: get an allergy test by a board-certified allergist. Before you reach for those over-the-counter medications, stop! Dokmeci says you can’t effectively treat your allergies until you know what you are allergic to, and you don’t want to take over-the-counter allergy meds if you don’t need them. “Over the counter or not, all medications can have side effects that you do not want to get exposed to, unless you have to.”

No. 2 Avoid Outdoor Allergens:

“The first thing that I tell my patients is how to avoid those allergens based on test results,” he said.

Pollen Count

Utilize your city’s website to monitor pollen counts each day. If it’s a high pollen day, avoid outdoor activities if you can. Also, look for opportunities to go outside after rain when pollen has cleared up.

Grass Allergies 

You’ll want to know if you’re allergic to grass, because grass allergens are tiny and can easily go directly to your lungs, causing wheezing and asthma-like symptoms alongside cat and dust mite allergies.

In the Car

When you’re cruising in your car this spring, Dokmeci says it’s a good idea to hit the “recirculate” button on your A/C so you’re not exposed to allergens and particulate material from other cars from outside.

Shower When You Get Home

If you’re outside on heavy pollen days, taking a shower when you get home is a good idea to help make sure you remove allergens that may be trapped in your hair.

Home Cooling Systems

Even if you stay indoors during days of heavy pollen, pollen will still come into your home through your air conditioning system. “Whether it's a forced air system or other systems that are going to bring the air from outdoors to indoors, the best way to deal with them is to put a HEPA filter in your air conditioning system so that it will filter out pollen-size particles,” Dokmeci says.

No. 3 Avoiding Indoor Allergens

You may not realize it, but there are things inside your home that could be causing your allergies to flare up.


Did you know that feathers are an allergen? Maybe your feather pillows and comforters are your problem. If that’s the case, changing your pillows and comforters could make a big difference.

Dust Mites:

You might be allergic to dust mites in your home, “especially if your house has a swamp cooling system which produces cooling by humidification,” Dokmeci says. “Humidity levels above 45% can increase dust mite count significantly.”

For dust mites, he suggests washing your bedding at least once a week on hot, 130-140F cycles to kill the mites. “We shed our skin while sleeping and sweat to provide the moisture for them, and they eat the skin cells, so that's a good environment for them to get free food.” Another suggestion is to research bedding that is dust mite-proof, which means the pore size of your bedding is smaller than the dust mites themselves.

No Humidifiers: 

“Humidifiers are a no-no, especially if you are allergic to dust mites or mold,” Dokmeci says. While he says he understands the desire to add moisture in our dry climate, humidifiers could do more harm than good. Despite your best efforts, you’re likely not going to be able to keep a humidifier clean. “Eventually what you're going to be exposed to is air that is not the best quality,” he says. A second danger with humidifiers is that they can promote mold growth.


If you have mold in your home, you must get an allergy test, Dokmeci says, because molds can cause a variety of health problems, including asthma. “Generally, the type of asthma with certain molds is intractable, very medication-resistant, very long- term.”

If you see mold, it’s not enough to clean the area with bleach, he says. “Maybe there's a much bigger growth behind and what you're seeing is the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.” Dokmeci recommends removing a small square of drywall to see what’s underneath. You can clean the area and patch it afterward. “Mold growth is a sign of poor ventilation in that area. If you don't improve it, it's going to come back.”


If you’re allergic to your cat, your symptoms will likely vary depending on exposure. If you sleep with your cat, Dokmeci says, you may wake up with watery eyes, a stuffed-up nose and other allergy symptoms. Cat allergens are tricky because they are very tiny and therefore get suspended in air and can move all over the place and easily get into your lungs.

“A HEPA air filtering system in your house and air purifier might help,” Dokmeci says. He suggests putting the system in your bedroom and closing the door, keeping your cat away from where you sleep. Bathing your cat once a week could also decrease dander levels.


If you're allergic to your dog, it's a different allergen than the cat allergen. It’s bigger, so it settles down and can be vacuumed,” Dokmeci says. Regularly vacuuming the floor can help a lot and if the vacuum has a HEPA filter, even better.

“The problem with dogs is if you go to outdoors with your dog, they're going to go and roll around the grasses weeds over there and they are going to bring those in. So, if you're allergic to those, that’s a different issue.” Again, that’s why Dokmeci says getting an allergy test is an important first step.

Pests: Cockroaches and Mice 

Believe it or not a common allergen in Albuquerque comes from cockroaches and Dokmeci says it’s one that should be taken seriously.

“This has been shown to cause more asthma-type symptoms, especially in younger kids. If you're seeing cockroaches in the daytime, there are probably many more at night.”

Dokmeci says the best solution is to bring in a professional exterminator. Also, make sure you aren’t leaving any foods out when you go to bed, including food left on dirty dishes. Other things that cockroaches love: water. “So, if you have water leaks in your house, that's an area that you want also want to address.”

Like cockroaches, mouse urine and droppings are also allergens that can cause asthma down the line. Calling in professional exterminators and being mindful of food left out are also his recommendations for mice. 

No. 4 Treatment

Allergy Medications

Remember, Dokmeci’s top recommendation following an allergy test is avoiding those allergens, after that is taking allergy medications, many of which are offered over the counter. “Unfortunately, like most of the people who have allergies will say that they help somewhat, but not much.” He says if you aren’t finding relief from those medications and/or nasal sprays, you may want to investigate allergy shots.

Allergy Shots/Allergy Immunotherapy

Allergy shots work like a vaccine. Your body will develop immunity or tolerance to the allergen.

“It is going to decrease your total symptom burden and in addition is going to help for you not to develop asthma down the line. Allergen immunotherapy might be the best treatment available for allergies,” Dokmenci says “But it has to be done by a specialist and you have to be committed because allergy immunotherapy takes several years to get the most benefit out of it.”

Bottom line, Dokmeci says, “Find an allergist, find relief.”

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