If you’re one of an estimated 50 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, then your nose already knows: Spring is here.
“Chances are good that there’s someone in your household who suffers from springtime allergies, and it’s getting worse each year,” says Sanaz Eftekhari, director of corporate affairs for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
The top three triggers are trees, grasses and weeds—all of which release their highest amounts of pollen at different times of the year. “In spring, tree pollen is highest; in summer, it’s grass pollen; and in fall, it’s weeds,” says Eftekhari. For some people, the result is a nearly year-round sneezefest.
Anything that blooms releases pollen, but your allergies are not necessarily from what’s in your backyard. “Pollen dust is very light and travels long distances,” says Eftekhari. “The pollen that’s irritating you could be coming from as far as 100 miles away.”
And while pollen itself is harmless, our bodies see these microscopic particles as dangerous foreign invaders, so our immune systems go into counterattack. The resulting symptoms—runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes—are our bodies’ (ineffective) ways of fighting back.
The good news? We can minimize our exposure to seasonal allergens. Here’s what Eftekhari suggests.
Take OTC Medication
For mild seasonal allergies, over-the-counter allergy medications may be your best ammunition; just be sure to follow the dosing directions on the package. Keep in mind that “the daily meds aren’t created to be taken once symptoms hit,” says Eftekhari. “They’re meant to be taken before symptoms start.”
Safeguard Your Car
Every year, before spring begins, check and replace the cabin air filter. While driving, keep the windows up and the air conditioner running—and hit the recirculate button so you don’t let more pollen in. Eftekhari also suggests frequent pollen-removing drives through the car wash. “It’s challenging because when you get in and out of the car, you let allergens in,” she explains.
Tidy Up the House
Keep the air in your home fresh and pollen-free by using air purifiers, and change air filters frequently. Regularly vacuum and wash bedding—including bed skirts, pillows, comforters and anything else that pollen could settle into—and don’t forget to clean window blinds and wash curtains.
Wash, Wear, Remove
When you get home, slip out of your clothes—and leave your shoes at the door. “When you walk outside, you’re stepping on things like pollen,” says Eftekhari. She also suggests taking a quick shower at the end of the day and rinsing your hair before going to bed, so the pollen doesn’t transfer to your pillows.
Clean Your Dogs
If you have dogs that spend time outdoors, their fur can be loaded with pollen at the end of the day. Brush them daily (tie on a bandanna, outlaw-style, to keep the pollen from flying into your nose), and wash or rinse them off frequently.
Check the Pollen Count
Peak pollen times are early in the morning and at sunset; stay in when the numbers are highest (many weather apps and sites like this one track the level). You may need to put off mowing the lawn until the air is clear. “If it’s a high-pollen day, do something indoors, like going to see a movie,” says Eftekhari.
Call an Allergist
If over-the-counter meds aren’t working and you’ve done all you can to battle the symptoms on your own, it might be time to call in the pros. Prescription meds and testing for exactly what you’re allergic to can help. You may need immunotherapy, in the form of allergy shots or sublingual tablets. This exposes your body to what you’re allergic to, in small doses, until you build up a tolerance.
Read More: Escaping allergies by spending more time indoors? Then you’ll want these tips on how to eliminate household germs.
By Ellise Pierce