By: Danielle Herrington
Since its settlement, Arizona has been marketed as a region for healing. Health resorts, hospitals, sanitoriums and tent cities sprung up all around to accommodate an influx of tuberculosis, asthma, allergy and arthritis patients. Tucson alone had at least 15 such institutions in 1933, according to a hospital directory written by James Clark Fifield with the cooperation of the American Hospital Association.
Sam Hughes, a Welsh immigrant after whom Tucson’s national historic district is named, traveled west to pan for gold but developed tuberculosis at age 29 and came to Tucson to die. According to Hannah Fisher, information services librarian at the Arizona Health Services Library, Hughes’ condition improved with the high altitude and warm, dry air and went on to marry an 11-year-old orphan and have several children.
And Hughes wasn’t alone. Fisher said more than 7000 “lungers” came to Tucson in the late 1800s and early 1900s to be cured of their tuberculosis.
“The place must have been alive with tuberculosis patients,” Fisher said.
Today, many people with health conditions that are irritated by cold, damp climates continue to relocate to Arizona for its bountiful sunshine and warm, dry air.
“It certainly improved the quality of life and not just for health reasons,” said Mike Schenk, 61, who moved to Arizona from Michigan in 1980 due to arthritis, which is a side effect of his Crohn’s disease. “I love the outdoors and I was getting bummed out being cooped up all winter.”
Schenk said the Michigan climate would cause his knees, ankles and feet to swell up so much that he could only wear tennis shoes that weren’t laced.
“They told me I’d be in a wheelchair by the time I was 30 if I didn’t get out of there,” Schenk said.
Since his relocation to Arizona, not only is Schenk able-bodied but he also races motorcycles with the Arizona Motorcycle Racing Association and won the championship in 2008.
“I have very few flare-ups now,” Schenk said, “Maybe once every couple of years.”
Although Arizona’s weather has been historically acclaimed for its healing properties, Dr. Randy Horwitz, medical director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, said it’s not perfect for every ailment.
According to Horwitz, the high altitude and pollution in developing areas such as Phoenix and Tucson are potent triggers for asthma. He said that you can sometimes see an inversion cap, which looks like a brown dome over the city, where pollution is held in due to Tucson and Phoenix being located in a valley.
Allergy sufferers are not immune either, said Horwitz. Although many people may experience a “honeymoon period” of one or two seasons, most will develop new allergies as their bodies adjust to a new environment. Horwitz also said that allergies can be triggered by non-native plants that people bring with them when they move to Arizona, which has led to certain plant species being outlawed.
While allergy and asthma patients don’t necessarily get relief in this climate, Horwitz said that arthritis patients usually do.
“Arthritis is impacted by humidity and barometric pressure changes,” Horwitz said. “Here both are consistent.”
Although Horwitz said warm weather and vast amounts of vitamin D via sunshine are almost always beneficial, Arizona isn’t quite the miraculous health resort it’s cracked up to be.