Prepare to prevent and treat your pollen allergies this spring

Spring is wonderful, provided you don't have terrible pollen allergies!

Spring is just around the corner, and with it comes baseball season, the return of outdoor runs and light sweater-weather! But if you have pollen allergies, as at least 10 percent of the U.S. population does, you're probably stocking up on tissues, eyedrops and antihistamines, and prepping for the inevitable questions about why you're crying when you're eyes well up and your nose turns red.

Vow to take control of your allergies this spring for your overall and immune health! Here are some tips and information:

Why do allergies happen?

Allergies are caused by an overreaction of the immune system to a foreign protein that is either eaten, touched, injected or inhaled. These foreign substances can include pet dander, particular medications, certain foods, products and even insects. However, pollen is classified as a seasonal outdoor allergy, though pollen can also be ingested from certain fruits or vegetables.

What are common symptoms of pollen allergies?

The two main symptoms of pollen allergies are allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis. Allergic rhinitis translates to frequent sneezing, runny nose, congestion, post-nasal drip and an itchy palate or throat. Conjunctivitis translates to watery, itchy, swollen red eyes. People with severe conjunctivitis often feel like they can't open their eyes upon waking in the morning due to swollen and watery eyes.

When does pollen season begin?

Typically, trees begin pollinating in mid-March and end in late-May, while pollen from grass and spring weeds starts to appear in early May and lasts throughout the summer. However, as scientists have confirmed, rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels have caused the spring season to arrive sooner.

What can I do to minimize my pollen allergy symptoms?

It's pretty hard to completely avoid pollen, especially if you plan to leave your house some time between mid-March and August. But there are some things you can do to minimize your exposure to pollen, especially when pollen counts are very high, and reduce its effects. Here are some ideas:

Reduce your exposure

  • After you've been outside – gardening, running or whatever else you love to do in the spring – change your clothes. It's also a good idea to take a shower to wash pollen from your skin and hair.
  • While doing outside chores like pulling weeds, mowing the lawn and gardening, wear a dust mask, hat, sunglasses and thick gardening gloves to limit your exposure to pollen.
  • Know the prime times for fun outdoor activities if you have pollen allergies. Plan an event or a long run after it has rained, which clears pollen from the air. Avoid too much time outside on very windy and dry days.
  • Don't hang your laundry on an outdoor clothesline in the summer. The worst thing you can do is make your home a haven for pollen as well!
  • Monitor pollen counts by checking your local weather channel. When experts forecast very high levels, start taking an allergy medicine or herbal remedy of your preference before your symptoms even start.
  • Keep your windows and doors closed at night or during high pollen counts.
  • If you want to take a run or bike ride outside, avoid doing so in the morning when pollen counts are typically highest.
  • Keep the indoor air clean and pollen-free by using a dehumidifier, using a HEPA filter in your bedroom and a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and using high-efficiency filters in your home's air conditioning system.

Of course, taking a decongestant or other allergy medicine and using nasal spray might be necessary, despite the above precautions. People with very severe allergies may need regular allergy shots. Check with your doctor to see what is best for you!

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