There's nothing like the warm, spring weather to make you want to step outside - but there's also nothing like nasty pollen allergies to make you want to turn around and go right back in. If you suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis (commonly known as hay fever) you understand the love/hate relationship with the great outdoors. Because even though the weather's nice, pollen from grass or trees floating through the springtime air can irritate your immune system and bring on aggravating symptoms - the constant runny nose, sneezing and itchy, irritated eyes - that can make day-to-day activities a struggle.
"Allergies are not just a minor problem," says allergist and immunologist Mark Schecker, MD, of Grand Strand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. "A lot of people minimize their allergies. We know from studies that allergies have a significant impact on people's quality of life. Allergies can do lots of things like affect your sleep, which then affects your ability to concentrate, your ability to be productive in your job and take part in all the other activities that you want to."
Dr. Schecker says that allergies are inherited and can begin at any age; for most people it's by age 30. Here, with advice from Schecker, are ways to help you win the war on spring allergies:
Stay Ahead of Symptoms
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends beginning a medication routine before allergy symptoms come knocking on your door. This allows the medicine to prevent your body from releasing histamine and other chemicals that cause symptoms. While individual treatment varies, Schecker recommends nasal steroid sprays and antihistamines as the best medicine for seasonal allergies. While most are available over-the-counter, you may want to consult with your doctor to be sure you're taking medications that work best for you.
Pick the Right Time to Venture Outside
Certain times of the day are worse than others, so watch your area's pollen counts. "Obviously when the pollen counts are higher, your chances of having symptoms are going to be much greater," says Schecker. Plan time outside when pollen counts are lowest, which tends to be later in the afternoon. Usually, pollen counts are highest in the early morning. It's also best to stay inside as much as possible if winds are high, as that blows pollen everywhere.
Keep your windows closed at home and while traveling.
While it may be tempting to open the windows during a breezy day, resist the urge - this can bring unwanted pollen into your home or car. If possible, turn on air conditioning, which cleans and cools the air. "Air conditioning does a really good job at filtering out pollen," says Schecker.
"Anything that you can do to cover the surfaces or areas where the pollen is going to be entering the body is going to be a help," says Schecker. For example, tying a bandana over your nose while mowing the lawn can help block allergen particles from entering your airways. Slip on shades to help protect your eyes from irritation. And don't forget a hat, which helps keep pollen from clinging to your hair and coming back inside with you.
Rinse Away the Pollen
The last thing you want is for pollen to tag along inside, where it can keep symptoms strong. But it's impossible to control it. If you've spent time outdoors, the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology recommends that, if possible, you take a shower, shampoo your hair and change clothes to avoid spreading pollen indoors.
Get Help for Persistent Allergies
Feel like you've tried everything to no avail? One thing Schecker doesn't recommend is giving up. If you find that physician-approved medication isn't making much of a difference, he advises that you talk to your doctor about allergen immunotherapy, better known as allergy shots. Allergy shots help train your immune system to develop tolerance to allergens and, over time, ease symptoms. An added bonus: allergy shots can lower your need for other medications.