It’s that time of year again. The sun is out, the weather is warming up, the days are getting longer … and you can’t breathe. More than 35 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies—also known as hay fever—that can make springtime a living hell full of sneezing, runny noses, watery eyes, and itchy throats. But just because there are increased levels of pollen saturating the air and making you miserable doesn’t mean you have to lock yourself inside until summer.
The symptoms associated with allergies, including runny noses and watery eyes, are attributed to the body’s defense mechanism perking up to fight against perceived threats. When pollen cells are inhaled, the body thinks they are harmful substances and produces a chemical called histamine, which floods areas like nasal passages and causes inflammation, congestion, and many of the uncomfortable signs associated with seasonal allergies.
Pollen is a fertilization agent produced by flowers, trees, and grass. When the weather warms up and the blooming season begins after the winter frost, pollen concentration is at its highest levels. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, pollen particles have been tracked 400 miles out at sea and more than two miles high in the air. There is no escaping it, but there are ways of dealing with it.
In recent years, pollen production has been more intense at the end of milder winters. “If you have allergies, you want it to stay cold and snow for as long as possible,” says Dr. Sarah Wistreich, a physician at the Capital Health Center for Women’s Health in Hamilton, N.J. “But there are different ways and resources to make this time of year a little easier.”
Wistreich says allergies are a product of your genetic makeup, and pollen allergies are inherited from one generation to the next. But one of the easiest ways to curb springtime symptoms is with over-the-counter remedies such as Claritin or Zyrtec or generic antihistamines. “One does not work better than the other,” Wistreich says. “It’s more about individual tastes.” So she recommends experimenting with different brands to find the one that works best for you.
In addition to these pharmaceutical tools, you can also manage allergy season by making sure you aren’t outside when pollen levels are their highest in the middle of the day, avoiding contact lenses for
a few weeks, making sure you shower and wash your hair after you are outside for any period of time, and even experimenting with acupuncture treatment.
Allergies can be tough. And while there is no cure for eliminating uncomfortable bouts with hay fever, there are ways to lessen its impact and make your spring a little sunnier.
Here are four allergy-busting strategies to keep in mind:
Timing Early mornings and evenings are the best time to be outside. Pollen levels are highest in the middle of the day.
Clear eyes Avoid wearing contact lenses—pollen sticks to them. Wearing glasses can help to keep it out of your eyes.
Stick it Acupuncture treatment can help to adjust the immune system. Wistreich recommends starting treatment before pollen season and then continuing through the spring to achieve the best results.
Wash up Shower and wash your hair regularly. “This is one of the most important things you can do,” Wistreich says.