Colorful spring flowers and bright green leaves are a welcome sight after a gray winter. But for some people, pollen from fresh blooms brings watery eyes, sneezing and a runny nose. These symptoms can take all the fun out of warmer weather. If you're wondering how to get rid of pollen allergies, you're not alone.
What is pollen?
Pollen is made up of millions of microscopic seeds that flowering plants, trees and grasses release at the beginning of their growing season — which is early spring for most vegetation. The green dust that appears on your car in spring is pollen carried by the wind. What gets on your car also gets into your nose and lungs, causing a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing and itchy, watery eyes. For some people, breathing in pollen dust can set off an asthma attack (when the airways become constricted), making it difficult to breathe.
Sometimes you can tell what plant or tree you're allergic to by the timing of the symptoms. Tree allergies usually peak in early spring, when birch, elm, oak and maple trees begin to bloom. Grass allergies usually peak in late spring and summer, when most grasses are growing fastest. Fall allergies can usually be traced to ragweed pollen. Doctors can also perform an allergy test to see what is likely causing your symptoms.
If you think your spring allergies are starting earlier than usual, or if you're suddenly experiencing allergy symptoms for the first time, it's not your imagination. Studies show that warmer winters and fewer days with frost affect when flowers create pollen and how much gets into the air. That means even if pollen hasn't bothered you in the past, higher concentrations and longer exposure could set off symptoms now.
How to prevent pollen allergies
While you may not be able to fully avoid symptoms from pollen allergies, there are a few steps you can follow to prevent and minimize allergies.
- Keep an eye on local pollen forecasts. Most weather apps and local news will report when pollen levels are high. Keep windows closed and avoid spending time outdoors at times of peak pollen levels. Pollen levels usually peak in the middle of the day.
- Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration system in your house to clear the air of allergies. Change filters on your heating/air conditioning system often, especially during peak pollen season.
- Avoid outdoor tasks — especially gardening and lawn mowing — that expose you to high pollen concentrations. If you need to do yard work, time these activities for early morning, late afternoon or evening, when pollen levels may be lower. Wearing a mask during these activities can also help prevent pollen allergy symptoms.
- Change and wash your clothes after outdoor activities and change your sheets every few days to reduce indoor exposure to pollen brought in from the outside.
- Be aware that pets who go outdoors may get pollen in their fur. Brushing them or giving them a quick rinse after walks might help reduce the amount of pollen they carry into your home.
- Talk to your doctor about allergy medications and other treatments that might help prevent or relieve symptoms. Although traditional antihistamines can cause drowsiness or other side effects, some newer medications are more effective and have fewer side effects. If you decide to take medication, be sure to read the label closely and follow instructions.
How to get rid of pollen allergies
If you develop sneezing, coughing or other symptoms from pollen exposure, there are a number of medications or remedies you can seek out to help alleviate your symptoms.
For mild congestion, try rinsing your nasal passages with saline spray to help remove mucus and pollen from your nose and relieve symptoms. You can purchase prepared saline washes at the drug store, or you can make your own.
Corticosteroid nasal sprays
Corticosteroid nasal sprays are available over the counter or by prescription. They are safe and effective for many adults and children. A spray or two in each nostril once a day can eventually prevent allergy symptoms. However, it can take several days or even two or more weeks before you notice an improvement.
Several different newer types of antihistamines are available over the counter. They are often the best choice for short-term exposures to allergens or before corticosteroid nasal sprays take effect. Ask your doctor for recommendations about which one might be good to try first.
Decongestants can help with allergy symptoms. They are available in forms to take by mouth or as a nasal spray. However, don't use nasal decongestant sprays for more than two or three days. Using them longer may cause congestion to get worse when you stop.
Allergy shots, also called immunotherapy, can also help get rid of pollen allergies. The treatment involves regular injections of small amounts of allergens that help your body produce the antibodies it needs to block allergy symptoms. This usually means weekly shots for a period of several years, but many people see improvement in symptoms after three to six months.
Seasonal allergies don't have to mean suffering. Learning how to get rid of pollen allergies, or at least combat the symptoms, can help you enjoy all the color and possibility the outdoors offer.
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