It’s certainly a welcome sight after a long, hard winter: budding trees, blooming flowers and grass that’s finally turning green. But as the 23 million Americans with seasonal allergies know, the joys of spring bring with them uncomfortable symptoms, including sneezing fits, itchy eyes and runny noses. If you’re an allergy sufferer, your immune system produces antibodies to plant pollen, which cause chemicals called histamines to be released into your bloodstream. Histamines trigger those allergy symptoms, which—depending on the weather and if you’re allergic to pollen from trees, grass and/or weeds—can start in early spring and last through late summer or even fall.
You’ve likely already experimented with over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, eye drops or nasal corticosteroid sprays to find relief. If your symptoms are particularly bad and these treatments don’t seem to help enough, you might want to consider immunotherapy—shots or newly available pills that will, in time, help to reduce your allergic reaction and give you lasting relief. Whether or not you use these conventional approaches to dealing with your allergies, there are a number of small tweaks to your daily routine you can try to reduce your discomfort:
Close the Windows
Yes, it’s lovely to feel a spring breeze, but it could be aggravating your allergies. A simple solution is to close your windows, whether you’re at home or in your car, to keep out pollen grains and minimize your exposure to the allergen. On hot days, use your air conditioning, which may boost your energy bill but will reduce your pollen exposure by about 90 percent.
Trade Morning Walks for Afternoon Strolls
Pollen count is highest in the A.M. By switching your outdoor activities like walking and gardening to later in the day, you’ll still get to spend time outside while lowering your exposure. You can always switch your routine back to mornings when symptoms subside.
Wash Pollen Off Your Clothes, Skin and Hair
Simply put, you want to keep pollen outside. That means that when you come in for the day, try to throw your clothes in the laundry and leave shoes outdoors or by the door. Then immediately take a shower, shampooing your hair so trapped pollen doesn’t end up on your pillow, where you’ll breathe it in all night. Also remember to wipe off your eyeglasses when you come indoors; they can collect invisible pollen that will irritate your system.
Steam temporarily helps to clear clogged nasal passages, and you’ll get even more benefit by including a few drops of eucalyptus oil (available in your local health food store). A 2010 study found eucalyptus oil to be naturally antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. Plus, it smells so clean and menthol-like, you can practically feel your sinuses clearing. Add a few drops of the essential oil to your tub floor before you shower; or drop them into a bowl of hot water, lean your head over the bowl and inhale. Note that some people with allergies are also allergic to eucalyptus, so skip the oil in your steam if it seems to be making things worse.
Try Saline Nasal Irrigation
Though it may seem unpleasant to pour water up your nose, nasal irrigation with a Neti pot—which looks sort of like a short, elongated ceramic teapot—filled with sterile, salty water soothes as it loosens mucus and rinses away pollen. Several studies have shown that the treatment significantly reduces histamine levels in the body, as well as the need for antihistamines; plus, it has no side effects. Flushing out allergens means you won’t be as affected by symptoms, and you’ll also get relief from congestion. Saline sprays work much the same way, but tend to be less messy and easy to use on-the-go. (These are different from nasal corticosteroid sprays prescribed by doctors.)