Scott M. Schreiber, a Delaware chiropractor, knows what it’s like to deal with springtime allergies. His eyes get swollen and itchy. His nose runs and his throat feels sore. “On high pollen days, I can only be outside for a short period of time, which is upsetting when my kids want to play,” Schreiber says.
In many parts of the U.S., “springtime allergies” start as early as February and last until summer. Most people with allergies have year-round symptoms.
Start these strategies today to get some relief.
1. Limit your time outdoors.
Each spring, trees release billions of tiny pollen grains into the air. When you breathe them into your nose and lungs, they can trigger an allergic reaction. Staying inside can help, especially on windy days and during the early morning hours, when pollen counts are highest.
When you do head outdoors, wear glasses or sunglasses to keep pollen out of your eyes. A filter mask can help when you mow the lawn or work in the garden. Different types are available, so ask your doctor to suggest one that will work best for you.
Once you head back inside, “Always take a shower, wash your hair, and change your clothing,” says Andrew Kim, MD, an allergist in Fairfax, VA. Otherwise, you’ll bring pollen into your house.
2. Take allergy medicine.
It can help adults and children with sniffles and a runny nose, Kim says. Antihistamines, which block your body’s response to allergies, usually work in less than an hour. But read the package carefully. Some older drugs, like chlorpheniramine, clemastine, and diphenhydramine can make you drowsy.
For more severe allergies, Kim suggests a nasal spray. But don’t expect symptoms to vanish right away. “They may take a few days to work,” he says. Since they can have side effects like burning, dryness, or nosebleeds, use the lowest dose that controls your symptoms.
Your doctor may recommend allergy shots if other medicines can’t relieve your symptoms. They contain a tiny amount of the pollen and will help your body build up resistance to it. You’ll likely need to get one shot each month for 3 to 5 years.
3. Protect yourself early on.
Start taking medicine long before your eyes get watery and you’re sneezing nonstop, “at least 1 week before the season begins,” Kim says. That way, the medicine will be in your system by the time you need it.
4. Get natural relief.
Some herbal remedies may help stave off allergy symptoms. More research is needed, but an extract from a shrub called butterbur shows promise. Biminne, a Chinese herbal formula with ingredients like ginkgo biloba and Chinese skullcap, may also help. One study found that people who took biminne five times a day for 12 weeks still felt the benefits a year later.
Tell your doctor first. “‘Natural’ or ‘alternative’ doesn’t necessarily mean safe,” says Anna Esparham, MD, a doctor of integrative medicine at The University of Kansas Hospital.
Butterbur may cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to plants like ragweed and marigold. Biminne doesn’t always work well with diabetes medicines. And because it’s unclear how these herbs help, the possible long-term side effects are unknown, Kim says.
5. Tweak your home.
Simple changes make a difference. Shut all windows to keep out pollen. Use an air conditioner to cool your home instead of a fan, which draws in air from outside.
Take off your shoes at the door and ask guests to do the same. That keeps allergens outside.
Clean floors with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. These filters trap 99.97% of microscopic particles in the air. And don’t line-dry clothes or sheets in warmer weather! They’ll collect pollen while they hang outside.
Finally, don’t smoke. It can make allergy symptoms worse. If you or someone you live with smokes, now is a good time to quit. If you start smoking again, start over.