The Snot Doc

Jim Christensen’s expertise and laid-back bedside manner make him the go-to guy for allergy sufferers

So a nasal wash is effective for a lot of people? “OMG, yeah!” Dr. Jim Christensen exclaims. “You show people how to do that and they go, ‘Whew, you’ve changed my life.’”

Quick with a joke, armed with a gregarious personality, the doctor whose e-mail handle is “snotdoc” was by far the leading vote-getter among allergists in the survey. Christensen suspects his longevity and willingness to go to hospitals for consults may be reasons for the wide recognition among colleagues.

Christensen originally moved to Las Vegas to house-sit in 1978 after attaining a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of California, Irvine. Demand was much higher for a craps dealer than a chemist, so he took a job at Lady Luck and then at the Fremont.

After he was rejected for medical school, he took an EMT course and worked for the local ambulance company. That gave him the cred he needed to be accepted at a medical school, and he earned his degree at the University of Nevada, Reno. But in his second year of residency at Barnes Washington University in St. Louis, his life took a turn.

He was most interested in pulmonary care and critical care medicine at the time, but one of his first attending physicians, Dr. Phil Korenblatt, sat him down and said, “I know you’re good at it, but you also have a personality. … Treat people who can appreciate you and communicate with you, and it will give you a richer life as an allergist.”

After completing a fellowship in allergy and immunology at the National Jewish Center of Immunology and Respiratory Medicine in Denver, Christensen returned to Las Vegas.

“Phil saved my life,” he says of his first mentor, with whom he still associates. “I’ve got job satisfaction like you wouldn’t believe. And because I have job satisfaction, my patients see it, they know I like it. I’m usually happy. I’m having a good time. I get to laugh and joke with them. The coolest thing right now—I’ve practiced long enough that I’ve seen kids grow up, they’ve gotten married and they bring me their children.”

Christensen, who himself suffers from allergies, most commonly sees cases of “Vegas throat,” that malady caused by the desert’s low humidity, dust and wide temperature changes. Secondhand smoke exposure is also common. He recommends that those who work in that environment use nasal washes frequently, and sometimes prescribes nasal steroids and antihistamines.

Although complaints stemming from construction dust have receded over the past couple of years, Christensen has not seen any decline in business. There’s always some other irritant popping up in our desert city, it seems. The planting of olive and mulberry trees has been banned, privet trees have taken over and the prevalence of Bermuda grass also causes trouble for many patients. While bee pollen and honey are ineffective home remedies, regularly using a nasal wash is an effective common-sense treatment for allergies before seeing a doctor.

Christensen, 54, says he doesn’t take himself too seriously and refers to his practice as a “boutique” medical specialty, but he has devoted a lot of his time to HIV services in the Valley, quality control at UMC and Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center as well as clinical investigations of new medicines for asthma, high blood pressure and HIV.

Hospitals, he reports, are facing critical shortages of common drugs because of supply chain, profitability or political issues.

Like most doctors, responding to insurance imperatives sometimes saps his enthusiasm. “You’re not practicing state-of-the art, cutting-edge medicine anymore because no one wants to pay for it.” He cites the story of a 77-year-old woman on a fixed income whose asthma was perfectly controlled. But her 30-day supply of medicine went from $30 to $93. “It wasn’t [even] the newest, latest, greatest,” he says, but he researched what she could afford and now must experiment with different combinations of medicines.

“It’s doing the right thing for people. It’s hard enough to learn how to practice medicine. It’s even harder to practice insurance. … But one ‘Atta, boy’ wipes out a whole slate of ‘Aw, shits.’”

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