Allergies, according to the Mayo Clinic, occur when your body's immune system recognizes a (usually harmless) substance as a threat. When this happens, it creates antibodies and initiates physiological responses that result in frustrating sneezing, itching, eye-watering, and chest tightening symptoms. They can range from mild to life-threatening (as is the case of anaphylaxis which requires emergency medicine).
Seasonal allergies are a subset of allergic reactions often triggered by indoor and outdoor airborne elements like pollen, ragweed, mold, dust, grass, etc. And unfortunately, allergy season, for much of the U.S., begins in February and lasts until early to mid-summer, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI).
Spring should be a delightful time of new beginnings, frolicking through botanical gardens or admiring budding tulips shining with that youthful winter-is-over glow. Not the time to be covered in snot, with both allergy and frustration-induced tears streaming down your face. To achieve the former and prevent the latter, we had some experts break down what you can do to set yourself up for a successful spring and allergy season.
1. Invest in dustproof, washable materials (and clean them)
Making a distinction between indoor and outdoor allergies makes sense, but keeping the outdoor allergens out of your house is important. This is why Shirin Peters, MD, founder of Bethany Medical Clinic, recommends that you invest in allergy-proof mattress covers, pillowcases, and washable curtains. Try to wash these at the start of allergy season and launder bedding weekly or biweekly. Dr. Peters also recommends pets be kept away from the sleeping area as much as possible.
This is because allergens can be sneaky and tracked into your home and bed. They also can cling to curtains easily if you have your windows open a lot.
2. Find allergy season medication that works for you and keep them handy
There are a lot of medicines, like Claritin, Allegra, Zyrtec, or Benadryl, that can assist allergy symptoms, and everyone is different. Finding the right one for your symptoms can involve some trial and error and might require the support of a provider. Once you find the right medication, stock up on it and add tablets to your car, wallet, and jacket pockets for easy access, says Kara Wada, MD, allergist, and immunologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Additionally, Dr. Wada recommends taking a dose of your allergy medicine before heading into an activity that will put you in the crosshairs of whatever you're allergic to. She stresses that allergy meds don't only work once you have symptoms and that they can actually work to stop them before they start if taken far enough in advance.
3. Wash your hats, clothes, body after going outside
Like your bedding, clothes are like a magnet for tiny particles of allergy-causing substances like pollen and ragweed, Gustavo Ferrer MD, FCCP, pulmonologist and founder of the Cleveland Clinic Florida Cough Clinic says. Washing your outerwear sooner than you think you need to is a good idea in the spring. This is especially true for hats, Dr. Ferrer says, because they're so close to your face, where allergens enter the body and cause many symptoms.
Additionally, it's recommended that you try not to sit on surfaces like your bed or couch while wearing clothes you've been outside in all day.
4. Check your local weather for seasonal allergy levels
Part of the strategy behind keeping major allergy attacks at bay is planning, says Dr. Wada. Before heading to a picnic or other outdoor event, check the projections for allergy levels a week out and a few days before. This allows you to take your medication or move your gathering somewhere less allergy-provoking.
5. Pick up an air care device
All of these experts recommended using an air purifier in your home that offers filtration of your specific allergens, whether that's pollen, dust, mold, or ragweed. Air purifiers with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter are typically proven by their manufacturers to remove pollen, dust, mold, and bacteria from the air in your home, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Just make sure to replace the filter in these machines per the manufacturer's instructions. Additionally, Dr. Peters recommends that you consider grabbing a humidifier if dry, dusty air bothers your lungs.
6. Prevent excess moisture
On the other hand, Dr. Wadda cautions against humidifiers if you're allergic to mold because they can accumulate mildew if overused. In fact, you can get a dehumidifier for your home if you have mildew allergies. This is particularly common in bathrooms. You can also reduce mildew-causing humidity by opening a bathroom window or door while you shower so that moisture can escape.
The good news about allergy season is that the above strategies can help you feel in control of your symptoms and be more prepared if they hit you out of nowhere. These tips may not let you stop and smell the flowers—but they can help you at least look at them on a relaxing walk.
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