Spring brings everything out of hibernation: baseball, perennials, and seasonal allergies, as millions of people in the U.S. unfortunately know all too well. If you’re allergy-prone, this time of year goes hand in hand with itchy eyes, congestion, heavy sneezing, and other unpleasant allergy symptoms. The good news is that small preventative steps, like extra cleaning and paying attention to pollen counts, can reduce your exposure to allergens. Here’s a quick primer on how to prepare for spring allergies.
Causes of Seasonal Allergies
Spring is a time of growth and renewal, and the science responsible for the fresh green leaves is also what causes pollen allergy symptoms. Pollen is a tiny grain that’s essential for plant reproduction. While some plant varieties count on insects to carry the tiny particles from one plant to another, others — like grasses and native trees including oaks, cedars, and birches — are wind-pollinated. That means these plants produce vast amounts of pollen to ensure the next generation of plants have a high chance of reproduction. Unfortunately for your sinuses, it can trigger allergic reactions that are uncomfortable and irritating.
As you’re waiting for winter to end, you may find that your allergy symptoms have already arrived. Trees start to release their pollen in late winter and early spring, while grasses pollinate in late spring. There’s lots of regional variation too, so depending on which part of the country you live in, you might experience pollen allergy symptoms as early as February or as late as fall.
While wind pollination is the primary source of seasonal allergies, mold also releases spores in the spring which travel by wind and can cause allergy symptoms.
What are the most common allergy symptoms?
As spring breezes begin to disperse pollen and mold spores, the body’s immune system goes into overdrive, leading to allergy symptoms like the following:
Itchy eyes, nose, ears, and mouth
Runny or stuffy nose
Hives may occur in some cases, though they are rare.
People with asthma should take extra precautions, as the same substances that trigger seasonal allergies — and even those that trigger year-round allergies, like pet dander — can also trigger acute asthma attacks. Allergy-triggered asthma, which is relatively common in children, affects the lungs and may lead to coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, or rapid breathing.
With COVID-19, this year’s spring season poses some additional challenges for asthma sufferers, even as vaccination numbers increase. If you have asthma, follow the suggestions below on how to prevent spring allergies and learn more about asthma coping strategies during COVID.
How to Prepare for Spring Allergies
We can’t change how susceptible our bodies are to allergies or asthma, but we do have some control in preparing for seasonal allergies and preventing pollen allergy symptoms. Here are three prevention tips.
Be strategic about when you go outside
After more than a year of travel restrictions, remote work, and limited access to public spaces, we’re all understandably eager to spend lots of time outdoors, where — you guessed it — there’s plenty of pollen in the air. You can limit your exposure to allergens and reduce your chances of an allergic reaction by taking a few extra steps before going outside. Check the local pollen count online — most weather apps include this as well — and take allergy medication in advance if the forecast is high. Pollen counts are typically highest in the morning, so consider opting for an indoor workout rather than an early run. In general, it’s best to stay inside when it’s dry and windy while rainy days offer a reprieve for allergy sufferers.
Allergy-proof your home
You’re unlikely to completely eliminate all allergens from your house, but there are some steps you can take to keep indoor air as clean as possible:
Turn on the AC instead of opening the windows when pollen counts are high.
Use a dehumidifier to keep indoor air dry — while dry days have higher pollen counts, too much humidity indoors can lead to mold growth and dust mites, intensifying allergy symptoms.
Vacuum at least once a week, ideally using a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which catches smaller particles like allergens.
Keep clothes pollen-free
When you’re ready to head home, avoid bringing the pollen back with you by changing and washing your clothes and taking off your shoes as soon as you’re back. Drying clothes in a dryer is better than putting them on a clothesline, where they’ll likely gather more pollen.
Top Over-the-Counter Treatments for Seasonal Allergies
There are a variety of medications used to manage allergy symptoms, including the over-the-counter treatments below. It may take some trial and error to find the best relief for your seasonal allergies, so if you’re still sniffly after exploring several options, don’t worry: a healthcare provider can work with you to find the best solution for your needs.
A saline sinus rinse flushes allergens out of your nose to relieve congestion.
Oral antihistamines like Claritin, Allegra, and Zyrtec are helpful for sneezing, itchy, runny nose, and watery eyes.
Decongestants like Afrin and Sudafed offer temporary relief from congestion, but they should only be used for a few days, as longer-term use may aggravate allergy symptoms.
Nasal sprays like Flonase and Nasacort ease pollen allergy symptoms and can be used preventatively even before symptoms appear.
Talk to an Expert Pharmacist
If your seasonal allergies persist even after preventative steps and over-the-counter medicine, there are other treatment options that may bring you more lasting relief. Our team of patient care pharmacists will work with your doctor to get you the allergy medications you're prescribed at the lowest cost, and we’re happy to answer your questions about allergy symptoms, asthma, or any other health concern. Download the mobile app for secure messaging or call 1-800-874-5881.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.