If your seasonal allergies are making you miserable this spring, you're not alone. More than 50 million Americans experience allergies each year. The good news is there are measures you can take to minimize the impact of seasonal allergies.
Seasonal allergies are usually caused by three main types of pollen: trees, grass, and weeds. They're called "seasonal allergies" because each type of pollen has a season where they're most potent. Here's a general timeline of common pollen seasons:
- March through June is tree pollen season
- June, July, and August is usually when the grass pollens are high, sometimes into September in a warm year
- August through the end of October is weed pollen season - it takes a hard freeze to kill off the weeds
- Some outdoor molds also peak in the fall months
- November to early February generally provide some relief for seasonal allergy sufferers
When you're monitoring pollen counts for your specific allergy, here are 10 ways to cope:
- Stay inside if it's windy and warm.
- Go outside at the right times.
- Know which pollen you're allergic to, and respond accordingly.
- Start your medication regimen early
- Close windows and doors
- Keep your home clear of dust and allergens
- Shower at night
- Pre-medicate with an antihistamine or put on a pollen mask before you go outside
- Manage pet dander
- Beware of mold
Pollen counts tend to rise on dry, warm, and windy days, so if it's breezy outside, try to stay indoors.
Pollen counts are highest in the morning and again at night, so if you need to go outside, try to do it when counts are low.
When it comes to seasonal allergies, it's important to know exactly what you're allergic to so you can take appropriate action.
"I have patients who come in saying they're allergic to pets, then we perform a skin test and it turns out they're actually allergic to oak trees or another pollen the pet is bringing inside on their fur," says Erin Willits, MD, an allergist and immunologist at Intermountain Alta View Hospital.
Simply monitoring the pollen count each day isn't effective. If you don't know what you're allergic to, it's hard to limit exposure.
"Some people think if there's an oak tree in their yard, they need to stay away from it," Dr. Willits says. "But if the pollen count for oak trees is high, it flies everywhere, and you're going to be exposed to allergens regardless."
If you know you experience allergies each year, start your allergy regimen about a month before your specific allergy season starts. That way any medication has a chance to get into your system and start working before the season starts.
It might be tempting to let the crisp spring breeze into your home, but when you suffer from allergies, you just might be opening Pandora's box. Instead turn on the air conditioner to keep the pollen out and the temperature cool in your home.
Keeping your home free of dust can make a big difference in keeping your seasonal allergies under control. Dust contains pollen and other irritants that can trigger your allergies. In addition, cigarette, cigar, and other types of smoke - including fumes from a wood-burning stove - make allergy symptoms worse, so steer clear of these irritants to help keep your allergies at bay.
Because pollen can stick to your clothes, skin, and hair, it's important to shower each night to remove any irritants. Remember to also remove and wash any clothing that was exposed to the pollen. You'll sleep better at night if the pollen doesn't have a chance of getting into your bed.
Take an antihistamine before you go outside to mow the lawn, rake leaves, play with your kids, and other activities that result in pollen exposure. Wearing a pollen mask is also an easy way to reduce exposure to irritants. Pollen masks are available at most pharmacies for additional protection against allergens.
This one may sound like a no-brainer, but if you're allergic to pets, don't get one. If you have a pet, at the very least, keep them out of your bedroom and off of your bed. And even if you're not allergic to pets, they can carry pollen on their fur, brush their hair frequently, wash your hands after touching them, and never rub your eyes after petting them. Vacuuming your house at least once per week can also do wonders to keep pet dander at bay.
Some people can have a mold-specific allergy - both indoor and outdoor mold. One way to lessen mold in your home is to wipe away any standing water in the bathroom and shower area. Using a ventilation fan when you take a shower also helps to reduce the chance of mold. If you have a mold allergy, exercise caution when you use a humidifier. Aim to keep the humidity level in your home below 60 percent. Anything higher can cause mold to grow in your home.
When to seek medical help
If you're unresponsive to over-the-counter allergy medication or if your allergies cause you to cough or wheeze, you could suffer from more than allergies - which means it's time to see a doctor. Allergies can turn into asthma or an upper-respiratory illness such as bronchitis or a sinus infection, so it's important to see an allergist who can assess your symptoms and develop a tailored treatment plan, which includes testing you for food allergies, asthma, and other conditions.