Hello, spring. Hello birds, bees, and blossoms … and sneezes, sniffles and crazy-making itchy eyes. The various types of pollen that make the plant world do its thing in spring are also responsible for making allergy sufferers downright miserable. More than 50 million Americans are affected by seasonal allergies, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. For those afflicted, spring doesn't inspire visions of tiptoeing though the tulips — more like visions of hermetically sealing off the house and breaking out a hazmat suit.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! The tips below can help you survive the pollenapocalypse and take back spring.
1. Stay one step ahead
There are a number of sites and apps that keep you posted on the day-to-day threat in your specific area. The Allergy Alert email, for example, arrives in your inbox in the morning and lets you know what to expect in your ZIP code for the next two days. This can be a great tool for helping plan outdoor activities. The same site also has a cool map that displays specific pollen offenders by neighborhood.
2. Know your enemy
Pollen counts are the highest between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. and pollen especially loves warm, dry mornings. So be prepared. That said, a heavy rainfall tames the pollen beast, so right after a rain is a great time to get outside.
3. Remember the quirky pollens
While most pollen is worse in the mornings, some hold off to torture sufferers later in the day, and all pollen can be worse later if the morning was damp. Although there is not a lot of information about specific pollen release times of certain plants, we do know that birch offers up its irritating pollen between noon and 6 p.m.; so if that’s one you are sensitive to, take note.
4. Beware of nice days after cloudy ones
Cloudy days encourage a buildup of pollen in flowers, which leads to an exuberant release of pollen as soon as the sun returns. So learn to love gloomy days; treat the subsequent sunny ones with suspicion.
5. Hit the beach; head for hills!
While areas prone to inversion can be loaded with pollen, the seashore and mountain peaks and ridges are generally low in pollen.
6. Wear sunglasses
Act like a movie star and wear big sunglasses; it will help to protect your eyes from pollen. For those with no shame, wear goggles.
7. Cover your mouth and nose
Face masks that prevent pollen from entering your mouth and nose can make a big difference; and fortunately, they are becoming more of a common sight. If you feel like too much of a pariah, a scarf will also offer some protection.
8. Grease your nostrils
Adding a smudge of Vaseline just inside your nostrils (and breathing only through your nose) will help trap much of the pollen. As soon as you’re indoors, carefully wipe it away and rinse.
9. Watch your grass
Mown grass shouldn't cause much of a problem on its own, but it can be a nice hiding place for other pollen to lurk, so elect not to mow the lawn if you have the option. Unmown grasses like wheat, barley and oats generally aren’t problematic.
10. Keep your home pollen-free
Ridding your interior environment of pollen is important so that you can tame inflammation from outdoor exposure, which will leave you better prepared for your next foray outside. The following tips can help around the house.
11. Do not throw open the windows in a moment of reckless spring abandon
Although opening the windows may be the natural springtime impulse for clearing the air, it will only invite more pollen in. Keep the windows closed and if it’s hot out, use an air conditioner that recirculates air.
12. Keep pollen on the down-low
Pollen will settle to the floor inside – some in as little as four minutes — but only as long as the air is still. With this in mind, keep fans off and rambunctious pets at bay.
13. Suck it up
Consider using a high-quality air filter. And as tedious as it may sound, daily wet dusting and/or vacuuming with a double bag or HEPA filter will help a lot. If you are in charge of cleaning and it stirs up the allergies, wear a mask.
14. Don’t line-dry your laundry
We love line-dried clothes; so does pollen.
15. Consider you pets to be pollen vehicles
Pollen and pet fur go together like magnets and steel. After your animals have been outside, don’t pet them or let them back in until someone has wiped them down or brushed them.
16. Have safe clothes
Change your pollen-dusted clothes as soon as you get home; keep some pollen-free clothes on hand for indoor use only.
17. Wash, rinse, repeat
After longer periods outside or after activities during high pollen days, shower and shampoo as soon as you get home. If that's not feasible, shower before you go to sleep to keep pollen off your bedding.
"After being outside for long periods, remove your clothing and shower, so you're not continuously exposed to the pollen," Richard F. Lavi, MD, allergist with the Allergy Asthma & Sinus Relief Center Inc. in Twinsburg, Ohio, told WebMD.
Also, always wash your face and hands as soon as you get inside.
18. Kick off your shoes
Keep your pollen-caked shoes outside; or at the very least, wipe them well on an outdoor mat.
19. Combat symptoms with home remedies
As hard as you try to keep pollen out of your life, chances are you will still suffer symptoms. Before you reach for over-the-counter medications, there are home remedies that may provide relief. Consider the following:
- A neti pot or saline nasal spray can help rinse and soothe sinuses.
- While the benefits of local honey for allergies has been debated, many still swear by it.
- Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple, has been shown to ease sinus inflammation.
- Spirulina, eyebright, and goldenseal supplements are helpful for some people.
- A few drops of eucalyptus essential oil in the bottom of the shower can make for a great, soothing steam treatment to help the nasal passages.
- Make a mug of hot peppermint tea; before drinking, breathe the minty steam, which can work as a mild decongestant and expectorant.
If you remain miserable and nothing else works, the newer over-the-counter drugs do not induce the same states of zombie-like stupor that older antihistamines did. Talk to your doctor about the gentlest pharmaceuticals; even if you don't love taking medications, there may be some solace in knowing that relief exists.