It happens like clockwork: As soon as you take out your jacket in the fall or pack away your heavy sweaters in the spring, your eyes start itching, your nose begins dripping, and you sneeze like you’re one of The Seven Dwarfs.
These seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever, are caused by your immune system’s reaction to the pollen released into the air by grasses, trees, and ragweed. Some plants pollinate in the fall, and others do it in the springtime.
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Depending on how severe your symptoms are, you can get relief several ways. Some are as simple as closing the windows. Others take more time and commitment.
“Talk to an allergist, who can test you for exactly which allergies you have and prescribe the appropriate course of treatment, which might combine a few different medications,” says Neil Kao, MD, an allergist at the Allergic Disease and Asthma Center in Greenville, S.C.
Start with these simple tips.
Plan wisely. Depending on the temperature and humidity, some days may be more pollen-heavy than others.
Check daily pollen counts for your city at the National Allergy Bureau’s web site, and limit your time outdoors on days when it’s very high. That doesn’t mean you have to lock yourself in the house for weeks, though.
“Trees pollinate in the morning, so if you’re planning a hike or picnic, late afternoon or evening may be better,” says Jeffrey Demain, MD, director of the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center in Anchorage, AK.
Keep pollen out of your home. “When you walk around outside, pollen coats your skin, clothes, and shoes,” Kao says. “So when you come inside, take your shoes off, wash your face and hands, and change clothes if you can, so you don’t drag the pollen through the house.”
Keep windows closed during peak allergy times, and think about installing a HEPA filter in your A/C or use a vacuum with one. Those things may also help keep your home an allergen-free sanctuary.
Yard work? Wear a mask. If you plan to garden or mow the lawn on a heavy-pollen day, consider wearing a NIOSH-rated 95 mask (available at hardware stores) to filter pollen.