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7 hay fever remedies you need to try
Don’t let your allergy to ragweed pollen get you down this season. Instead, try these tips to reduce hay fever symptoms.
Spring gets a bad rap for being the prime allergy season, and for good reason. But weed pollen can set off allergy symptoms in late summer and early fall. It’s especially true for ragweed. Ragweed pollen allergy is also called seasonal allergic rhinitis. But you’ve probably heard it called hay fever.
More than 19 million adults and five million children in the U.S. struggle with hay fever.1 Ragweed season peaks in mid-September.2 But these plants can start producing pollen as early as July and can keep going through November.
And ragweed pollen season might be getting longer and stronger. The length of its season has been steadily increasing.3 Since 1995, the season increased by more than 20 days in some regions.
“Ragweed season lasts until there is a local frost,” says Robert Corriel, MD. He’s a board-certified allergist with ProHEALTH Lake Success Allergy, part of Optum, in New Hyde Park, New York. The first frost used to happen around mid-October, depending on where you live. But due to climate change, it now happens between Thanksgiving and Christmas, he says.
Luckily, there are ways to beat hay fever so that you can enjoy autumn. Try these allergist-approved methods to ward off symptoms.
Take over-the-counter allergy medication
Allergy symptoms can be nasty, and hay fever is no exception. You might have:
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Irritated, red or watery eyes
- Itchy nose, ears, roof of the mouth, throat or eyes
- Allergy-induced asthma
When you touch, eat or breathe in an allergen, your body gets confused. It mistakes a harmless substance for a dangerous intruder. It reacts by releasing a chemical called histamine. This causes those classic symptoms in the nose, throat, eyes and more.4 (Learn how to tell the difference between colds, allergies and COVID-19.)
Antihistamines are your best line of defense. They block this chemical, easing that allergic response. Some popular antihistamines include:
- Cetirizine (Zyrtec®)
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl®)
- Fexofenadine (Allegra®)
- Levocetirizine (Xyzal®)
- Loratadine (Claritin®, Alavert®)
Antihistamines are great at reducing general allergy woes. But they won’t help every symptom, Dr. Corriel says. If you’re really struggling, you can try more targeted medications.
If you have a stuffy nose, you can try a nasal steroid spray, such as:
There are also pills to ease nasal congestion. Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed®) is a popular choice.
For a runny nose, you can try other kinds of nasal sprays. One to ask about is ipratropium (Atrovent®).
If your eyes are red and itchy, reach for allergy eyedrops. Dr. Corriel suggests:
- Olopatadine (Pataday®)
- Ketotifen (Zaditor®)
If you have asthma and hay fever, keep taking your asthma medication as told by your doctor, says Dr. Corriel. Hay fever can worsen asthma symptoms.
You can take some allergy medications two weeks before the start of ragweed season. This can drastically ease your symptoms. Some people even report that it stopped symptoms from happening at all. Talk to your doctor about what’s best for you.
You can stock up on all your allergy supplies in one swoop at the Optum Store. And you can use your HSA/FSA funds to save even more. Start shopping now.
Talk to an allergist
“Hay fever affects a lot of people’s lives,” says Stacey Radinsky, MD. She’s a board-certified allergy and immunology specialist at ProHEALTH Comprehensive Allergy and Asthma, part of Optum, in Merrick, New York. “It’s a disorder that shouldn’t be underestimated.”
The best way to control hay fever is to talk to an allergy doctor, says Dr. Radinsky. They will do a blood or skin test to find what’s causing your symptoms. Together, you can decide the next steps based on your test results. (Looking for a doctor you can trust? Search Optum providers.)
Ask about allergy shots or prescription tablets
Allergy shots help build resistance to allergens. Your doctor will inject you with a small amount of allergens. Over time, you’ll get a larger amount. This builds up your tolerance.
There are also immunotherapy tablets. You must take these every day, starting 12 weeks before ragweed season.
These treatment options are ideal for people who have severe hay fever.
Check pollen counts
During ragweed season, limit your time outside. This is especially important in the morning. In late summer and early fall, pollen levels are highest before noon.
Keep pollen off your body
Pollen can get into your eyes, nose and mouth. Protect yourself with physical barriers. Sunglasses and a mask are great options. Wear a hat or tie your hair back to lessen the amount of pollen that lands on your hair.
If pollen gets into your eyes or nose, Dr. Corriel suggests using saline eyedrops or a nasal spray to flush it out.
Keep your windows closed
Ragweed pollen can’t affect you if it can’t reach you.
“The goal is to keep pollen out of your house,” Dr. Radinsky says. “Keep your windows closed. Use air conditioning if you have it. And keep the windows closed in your car.”
If it’s been outside, clean it before bringing it inside
You can track pollen indoors on your clothes or hair. If you’ve been outside, there are a few things you should do as soon as you step through the doorway, Dr. Radinsky says.
“Make sure that when you come in at the end of the day you change your clothes,” she says. It can also help to take a shower. This will make sure pesky pollen doesn’t end up on your couch or bed, causing more symptoms indoors.
Pollen can even be tracked inside on pets. You should always wash your hands after touching a pet that’s been outdoors.
The bottom line
Hay fever can wreak havoc on your life in the fall. The good news? You have plenty of ways to ease symptoms (or even keep them from happening in the first place).
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Allergies and hay fever. Last reviewed December 13, 2021. Accessed July 15, 2022.
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Ragweed allergy. Last reviewed April 23, 2018. Accessed July 9, 2022.
- Environmental Protection Agency. Climate change indicators: ragweed pollen season. Last updated August 2016. Accessed August 3, 2022.
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Hay fever/rhinitis. Accessed July 9, 2022.
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