When spring's around the corner, your thoughts might naturally turn to enjoying the outdoors, having picnics, and getting exercise in the fresh air.
However, people with spring allergies want to take part in those activities without sniffling, sneezing, itching, and rubbing their eyes.
Sensitive people call the condition hay fever, but doctors know it as seasonal allergic rhinitis. The main culprit in spring? Pollen. And it’s everywhere. So what can you do?
Soon after Valentine's Day, spring allergens swing into action, says Bradley Becker, MD, a professor of pediatrics at the St. Louis University School of Medicine and a doctor at the Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center.
Trees kick off pollen season in the early spring, followed by grasses in late spring and early summer. Weed pollens can trigger symptoms too, beginning in late summer.
Which pollens flourish -- and exactly when -- depends on what area of the country you live in, says Becker, a member of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.
Regardless of how much pollen bothers you, you can survive and thrive in spring with these tips, experts say:
- Educate yourself about allergens.
- Reduce exposure to allergens.
- Consider over-the-counter remedies or see an allergist for treatment.
- Consider allergy shots or immunotherapy.
What's Making You Sneeze?
The size of pollen grains – the tiny cells needed to fertilize plants – determines whether it’s likely to make you miserable, says Sakina Bajowala, MD, an allergist in St. Charles, Ill., and a member of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.
To cause trouble, "a pollen [grain] has to be very small and very light," Bajowala says. That kind of pollen – released by trees, grasses, and weeds – is designed to travel on the wind.
So it’s no surprise that windy days are typically worse for hay fever sufferers than calm days, Bajowala says. Wind can carry pollen more than 100 miles from its source.
Different people are sensitive to different grass and tree pollens, she says. Sensitivity varies too by the region of the country you live in and which trees are common there.
How to Reduce Pollen Exposure
Experts agree the first step for allergy sufferers is to avoid the allergens -- easier said than done, especially if you are not sure exactly what's triggering your symptoms.
Staying indoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when pollen counts are generally higher, can help. So can using a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter on your furnace and air conditioner, Bajowala says.
Scheduling your errands and your workout for later in the day on high-pollen days also help, Bajowala tells WebMD.
Other tips for avoiding exposure:
- If you have a pet that goes outside, wipe his fur off before he comes back in. Pets can bring pollen indoors on their fur.
- Take off your shoes before you come inside, so you don’t track in pollen.
- Dry your clothes in a dryer; don’t hang them outside.