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8 ways to beat your allergies this season
Know what to do now so you sniffle and sneeze less later
Spring is officially days away. And for about a quarter of Americans, that means the onset of seasonal allergies. The good news? You can start fighting and even preventing sniffles and sneezes right now.1
Seasonal allergies happen when the body overreacts to pollen. Pollen is a powdery substance made by trees, grass and weeds. When people with allergies breathe it in, their body mistakes the pollen for germs. It releases chemicals to help clear it out. Those chemicals cause allergy symptoms. You may end up with a runny nose, sneezing and watery, itchy eyes.
Seasonal allergies typically happen at certain times of the year. Depending on where you live, they can happen in the spring, summer or fall.
“Spring is often the worst time for pollen," says Melanie Carver. She’s the chief mission officer for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. But fall can be a close second.
It helps to be prepared. A few weeks before allergy season starts up, follow these simple steps.
Step 1. Know when allergy season starts in your area
Spring allergies can start as early as February in some parts of the U.S. They generally end in early summer. Here’s a basic timeline,2 but if you live in warmer (or colder) parts of the U.S., it could look a little different.
- Early spring: tree pollen, mostly in states that are warmer.
- Late spring and summer: grass pollen. This can be a year-round problem in tropical areas of the country.
- Late summer and fall: ragweed pollen. Expect the highest levels in early September.
But it doesn’t always work that way. Warm winters can cause plants to make pollen earlier. That can make your allergy season longer and your symptoms worse.
Step 2. Learn which seasonal allergies affect you
Know exactly what type of pollen gets you sneezing. If you’re not sure, ask your doctor for an allergy test to find out. (Self-test kits may not give you accurate information.)
What’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make? Not figuring out which allergies affect you and when. “There are many different common allergens,” Carver says. “How you manage them may differ.” An allergen is something that can cause symptoms. It may be pollen or mold growth on food and damp surfaces.
Try talking to a doctor if you’re unsure. Your choices may include:
- An allergist (a doctor who specializes in caring for allergies)
- A lung doctor
- Your primary care doctor
They can look at your medical history and order the right allergy tests. And once your allergies are confirmed, your doctor can suggest a care plan.
Step 3. Start taking your allergy medicine before allergy season
Don’t wait for your allergies to begin. Start taking your medicines early, says Carver. Aim for at least 2 weeks before your allergy season starts. Once your allergies get going, they can be hard to stop.
You can also try antihistamines. These are over-the-counter medicines. They block the chemicals your body makes.3 You can find them as pills or liquids. Popular brands include Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra. Your doctor can help you choose the right one for you.
Step 4. Limit your pollen exposure once the season starts
When pollen counts start climbing, limit your exposure to pollen as much as possible. You may need to stay in on windy, high-pollen days, says Carver.
If you must go outdoors, wear sunglasses and a mask, Carver suggests. “These will help cut down how much pollen gets into your eyes, nose, mouth and airways.” You might want to wear a hat or a bandana, too, to keep pollen out of your hair.
A 2022 study showed a drop in allergy symptoms in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers think it’s because they wore masks when they left the house.4
Step 5. Ban allergy triggers from your house
You don’t need to go outside to set off your allergies. Pollen can find its way into your house. One way is through open windows and doors. Try to keep your windows and doors closed during allergy season when possible.
“You might also have pollen on your shoes or clothes,” says Carver. “You could bring it into the house without realizing.” Take off your shoes when you come inside and put your clothes in the laundry room. Also, wipe down your pets when they come into your home. This can remove pollen from their fur.
If possible, use central air-conditioning. You can also use air cleaners. Find ones that have high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration. They’ve been shown to remove almost all the pollen from your home’s air, says Carver.
Step 6. Rinse out your nose
Rinsing your nose can help remove pollen.5 Ask your doctor about saline nasal sprays. They have a mixture of water and salt that can help flush pollen out.
You can also try a neti pot. It may help clean your nasal passages and clear out:
- Pollen and other allergens
- Mucus (fluid that coats the inside of the nose, throat and airways)
If you try a neti pot, be careful about the water you use. Always use either sterile or distilled water. Stay away from tap water. It may have germs that can cause a bad infection. If you’re not interested in a neti pot, try a spray, pump or squirt bottle.
You can stock up on all your spring allergies supplies at the Optum Store. Shop now.
Step 7. Try acupuncture
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine. A doctor will insert tiny needles into your skin to ease health problems. Though it’s mostly used for pain, it can also help allergy symptoms.
A 2023 study found that acupuncture may help with allergies. People used less allergy medicine and had a better quality of life.6
Another study showed that getting acupuncture before allergy season could help.7 Talk to your doctor to see if acupuncture might be right for you.
Step 8. If your allergy medicine doesn’t work, move on
What if your allergy medicine doesn’t help your symptoms? It might be time to find a new one. After all, says Carver, you don’t have to live with bad allergies.
“There are many different types of care that can help you feel better,” says Carver.
A good place to start is by talking with your doctor. They can suggest a new medicine or send you to an allergist. What if your allergies are bad or don’t go away? Ask about allergy shots. “Allergy shots often work very well,” says Carver.
Here’s the bottom line: You don’t have to suffer with seasonal allergies. There are lots of ways to lessen their symptoms and even make them go away. And the key? Start your treatments early.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diagnosed Allergic Conditions in Adults: United States, 2021. Published January 2023. Accessed March 21, 2023.
- American College of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology. Seasonal allergies. Published December 28, 2017. Accessed February 12, 2023.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Seasonal allergies: Which medication is right for you? Published March 29, 2019. Accessed February 12, 2023.
- American Journal of Otolaryngology. The effect of face mask usage on the allergic rhinitis symptoms in patients with pollen allergy during the covid-19 pandemic. Published January 2022. Accessed February 12, 2023.
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. 6 things to know about complementary health approaches for seasonal allergy relief. Accessed February 12, 2023.
- European Archivers of Otorhinolaryngology. A novel and alternative therapy for persistent allergic rhinitis via intranasal acupuncture: a randomized controlled trial. Published January 29, 2023. Accessed February 12, 2023.
- Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Acupuncture for seasonal allergic rhinitis: a randomized controlled trial. Published June 11, 2015. Accessed February 15, 2023.
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