After a long winter, getting outside for a breath of fresh spring air can be the balm we’re all craving — unless spring allergies mean you’ll be sniffling, sneezing, itching, and jabbing away at your inflamed eyes.
With many experts warning that allergy season is coming earlier and lasting longer than ever before (another dire effect of global warming), people who suffer from allergic rhinitis need to get their stay-well plan in action before the first buds blossom on the trees, says Edith Schussler, MD, a pediatric allergist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. “I tell all my patients who have spring allergies to start taking their allergy medicine by March 1st,” she says.
In addition to taking oral antihistamines, and making sure you have nasal sprays and eye drops ready to go when the symptoms hit, here are 12 other things you can do to get relief:
Download a pollen app.
First, check in with an allergist to find out exactly what it is you’re allergic to (common allergens include ragweed, birch, and juniper). Then, download an app such as Pollen, which can give you updates about how high the pollen counts are in your zip code each day.
Dress like an allergy warrior.
Pollen sticks to everything, so wearing long sleeves and pants that you can peel off as soon as you get home helps the pollen from clinging to your skin. And while you’re at it, wear a hat with a brim to keep pollen from falling into your face and some cool sunglasses, suggests Dr. Schussler. “Everyone touches their face all the time, but if you’re wearing sunglasses, you can’t stick your hand right into your eyes,” she points out.
Shower as soon as you walk in the house.
After you throw those pollen-covered clothes into the wash, hop in the shower and scrub off whatever tiny bits are still hanging on your skin. Wash your hair, too, especially if you forgot to wear that hat, says Dr. Schussler.
Become a no-shoes household.
When you walk around outside, you’ll inevitably step through leaves, mold, and pollen. Keep from dragging those lovely irritants throughout your home by placing a shoe rack by the front door, and insisting everyone take off their sandals or sneakers before trekking through your home.
Time your picnics and hikes carefully
If you love the great outdoors, you can still enjoy a hike or bike ride during allergy season—as long as you check your app and schedule accordingly. “Trees pollinate in the morning, so if you’re planning an outing, late afternoon or evening may be better,” says Jeffrey Demain, MD, director of the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center in Anchorage, AK.
Learn to love the rain.
If the weather forecast is calling for a wet morning, that’s a reason for sniffly allergy sufferers to rejoice: Since the rain washes pollen out of the air, the hours after a downpour are often the best time to go outside.
Keep the windows closed if you can.
Sure, we all love to feel a nice cool breeze on a warm day, but pollen will fly in through an open window, so keep them shut when your app tells you pollen counts will be high. If it gets too hot, run your air conditioner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, and wash out the filter once a week.
Vacuum. A lot.
Not only will pollen fly through an open window or get tracked in by that one friend who forgets to take his shoes off, but plenty of indoor allergens can gather up on your floors and carpets. Consider buying a vacuum with a HEPA filter in it (click here for GH’s recommendations) to suck those allergens right off the floor.
Get rid of all those heavy rugs and drapes.
If you’re thinking of redecorating, it’s best to go with a minimalist look, at least when it comes to fabrics. “Heavy carpets and drapes hold on to allergens,” Schussler explains. “Hardwood or tiled floors that you can mop up easily are a much better choice.” As for window treatments, slatted blinds that you can dust or wipe off easily are a more allergy-friendly choice than curtains or drapes.
Wash your sheets in hot water.
Changing your bedding frequently, and washing in hot water, can kill off any of the allergens that might stick to you while you sleep.
Hand off the gardening chores to someone else.
Mowing the lawn, trimming the rose bushes, and pulling up weeds are all surefire ways to set off your allergies. Try swapping chores with someone else in your family (folding laundry and doing the dishes are fairly sniffle-free tasks).
While the research is still preliminary, one recent study has suggested that taking a daily dose of a probiotics including lactobacilli and bifidobacterial may reduce the nasal symptoms in people with mild spring allergies.