16 Steps to Combat Spring Allergies

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PESKY POLLEN

The arrival of spring brings welcome warmth after winter's chill, but allergy sufferers know that the change of season also brings itchy eyes, runny noses, sore throats and sneezing. Thanks to the increase in pollen from trees, grasses and weeds, more than 20 million adults and over 6 million children are affected by allergic rhinitis (also known as hay fever) -- and those numbers seem to be on the rise, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The good news is that just like with fall allergies, there are plenty of steps you can take to combat spring allergies. Here are our helpful tips to make springtime a much more pleasant season.
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SEE YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE ALLERGY SEASON

If you already know that you suffer from allergies, it's a good idea to visit your doctor in late winter or early spring before pollen levels peak. An appointment with an allergy and sinus specialists may be especially helpful as they can conduct tests to determine what triggers your allergies, and there may be new treatments or combinations of therapy that could help you reduce the severity of your reactions. If you previously took medications that were effective, you want to make sure those prescriptions are filled early.
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BE AWARE OF DAILY POLLEN LEVELS

If you have springtime allergies, chances are you're most allergic to tree pollen, which can come from a wide variety of species, including oak, maple, and pine. Your body's immune system sees harmless pollen and other allergens as dangerous substances, and reacts by producing chemicals such as histamine and leukotrienes, which in turn inflames the lining of your nasal passages, sinuses, and eyelids. Check daily pollen levels before you head out so that you can take allergy medications and precautions before symptoms start. There are numerous websites and apps that provide detailed pollen counts, including The Weather Channel, Pollen.com, and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
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PLAN YOUR OUTDOOR TIME WISELY

While avoiding pollen completely is impractical -- unless you've found a way to travel around in a bubble -- you can still plan your outdoor time to reduce your exposure. If you can stay indoors as much as possible when pollen counts are high and, especially on dry, windy days, you'll help minimize allergic reactions. A good time to go outside is after a heavy rainfall, which can help reduce the pollen in the air.
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EXERCISE LATER IN THE DAY OR INDOORS

If you typically go for a run or exercise outdoors in the morning, try postponing your workout until later in the day. Most plants pollinate from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., so if you can avoid running around outside during that window of time, your body will thank you. And while the warmer weather may make an outdoor workout more tempting, consider exercising indoors at least on days with high pollen counts.

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KEEP THE GRASS TRIMMED AND CONSIDER REPLANTING

While spring may be the time to spruce up your lawn and garden, for allergy sufferers those chores can be particularly unpleasant with all that pollen. But there are steps you can take outside to reduce your symptoms. By keeping the grass trimmed short -- around 2 inches -- you can cut the leaves before they produce flowers and pollen. Just be sure to wear long sleeves and pants, eye protection, and a mask when you do, or delegate someone else to do it. By fertilizing, you can also thicken the thatch of your grass to minimize allergenic weeds. And you may want to consider replanting high pollen trees, plants and grass with low pollen alternatives.
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PROTECT YOUR EYES

When you go outside, be sure to wear tight-fitting or wraparound sunglasses to help keep windborne pollen from irritating your eyes. There are even some glasses designed specifically to block out pollen, and while they may not be the most stylish, you may not care if it makes going outside more pleasant. Also, be sure to clean your glasses regularly to keep pollen from travelling with you.
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TAKE A SHOWER AND CHANGE YOUR CLOTHES

After spending time outside -- whether working out, gardening or just walking around -- its a good idea to change your clothes and take a shower to minimize the amount of pollen that you bring into your home. You'll also want to leave your shoes at the door for the same reason, and ask guests to do the same. If you have pets, you can minimize the amount of pollen they bring in the house by wiping them down with pet wipes.
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CLOSE WINDOWS AND USE A/C WHEN POSSIBLE

As tempting as it may be to open the windows for that warm spring air, it's a good idea to keep them closed -- especially on days with high pollen counts. Instead, use the air conditioner in your car and home, and be sure to clean or change filters regularly.
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USE AN AIR FILTER INDOORS

Keep the air clean in your home and reduce the amount of pollen in the air with the help of a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) purifier. While whole-house purifiers can get costly, there are some well-priced portable units like the GermGuardian (about $90 on Amazon), that are effective for cleaning the air in individual rooms.

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GET STARTED ON SPRING CLEANING EARLY

In addition to taking steps to keep pollen out of your home and using an air purifier, it's also a good idea to get started on spring cleaning as soon as possible. Give extra attention to areas where allergens tend to gather such as carpeting, upholstered furniture, bedding and curtains, but even bare floors and other surfaces should be given a thorough cleaning. Be sure to wear a mask while cleaning, and consider non-toxic cleaners over those that contain irritating chemicals. Also, eliminate allergen-collecting clutter, and take steps to banish cockroaches and other pests, which can trigger allergy symptoms.
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EAT SMART TO COMBAT ALLERGENS

Boosting your immune system with smart food choices is a great -- and delicious -- way to help reduce the severity of spring allergies. Berries, peppers, onions, and parsley are thought to help reduce histamine reactions, as do kiwis, which also offer immune system defending vitamin C. Doctors recommend two weekly servings of fish, particularly salmon, mackerel and tuna, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation. Some people also find teas made from peppermint, stinging nettle and other herbs helpful for reducing allergy symptoms. And as much as we might enjoy local honey in our tea, most reports suggest that it won't help your allergies.
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CLEAR YOUR SINUSES WITH SALINE

While nasal irrigation with a saline solution may sound intimidating, the ancient process has been shown in numerous studies to be highly effective in clearing mucus and allergens from nasal and sinus passages, while also reducing inflammation. It's inexpensive, easy to do, and many find they don't have to rely as much on allergy medications with frequent rinses. While you can use simple saline sprays, bulb syringes and neti pots -- a ceramic container with a spout -- are considered most effective. You can purchase saline mixes or use 2-3 teaspoons of iodine-free salt, 1/4-1/2 teaspoons of baking soda and 1 liter of sterile or distilled water. Be sure to thoroughly clean and dry the device.
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EXPLORE OTHER HOMEOPATHIC OPTIONS

In addition to nasal irrigation, many people have also found other natural or homeopathic remedies to be effective in reducing the severity of spring allergies. For some, regular sessions of acupressure or acupuncture have helped relieve runny noses, itchy eyes, and other symptoms. Studies have shown that probiotics may also help reduce allergy symptoms by boosting by boosting the level of beneficial bacteria in your digestive system.
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FIND THE RIGHT OVER-THE-COUNTER MEDICATION

There are a wide variety of over-the-counter medications available that can help combat seasonal allergies. From antihistamines to decongestants to corticosteroids, there are a variety of options and delivery methods, each with their own benefits and side effects. The key is finding the one that works best for you, which can be done by consulting your healthcare professional.
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CONSIDER PRESCRIPTION REMEDIES AND ALLERGY SHOTS

For allergy sufferers that find over-the-counter medications to be insufficient, your doctor may prescribe other options such as Clarinex, Astelin nasal spray or Optivar eye drops. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend allergy shots, which may help you develop a tolerance to seasonal allergens and reduce symptoms.
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TAKE A VACATION FROM ALLERGIES

While there's no absolute cure for spring allergies, if you have the time and means to spare, taking a vacation to a destination with lower pollen levels can be an excellent -- if temporary -- remedy. While no place will be completely pollen-free, good options include places that have ocean breezes and regular rainfall to clear the air, snow-covered resorts, arid desert destinations, and ocean-bound cruises.

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