As the weather gets warmer and we’re itching to be outdoors, some people dread the itching eyes and other irritating symptoms allergy season brings.
Depending on weather, tree pollen season can start as early as February and usually by March, said Dr. Princess Ogbogu, director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Grass pollens take over in May, June and July. Weed pollens take up the assault in August and — again, depending on how warm it is — that can continue into November, Ogbogu said.
Exposure to allergens during those many months can have a more adverse impact on our health than we realize.
“People can truly be more affected by their allergies than they even think. Allergies can cause a lot of fatigue and even poor concentration and poor sleep, if they are not well controlled,” she said.
Allergies often affect other conditions, such as asthma, and lead to poor lung function and other issues.
“Pollen is one of those things that it’s impossible to completely avoid,” Ogbogu said. “There will always be some exposure to it while you’re outside, but it’s good to know what will minimize that impact for you.”
Here are Ogbogu’s tips for ways allergy sufferers can find relief.
Know your allergy, and track pollen counts.
Talking to an allergist to have a clear understanding of what is causing the reactions is the first step to learn what you can best do to avoid those triggers and prevent irritations, Ogbogu said.
Armed with that knowledge, stay aware of what pollen counts are as you head into spring and summer months. The National Allergy Bureau is a great resource, Ogbogu said.
“Certainly on days where it’s higher, you want to try to put a barrier between you and the pollen,” she explains. “Keep windows closed, run air conditioners instead. Try to limit exposure, if you can, at times when pollen is high.”
Don’t bring the pollen inside with you.
“When you return from the outside, we recommend removing your shoes, changing your clothes and even taking a shower and washing your hair,” Ogbogu said. “We collect pollens on us all day long, so you want to wash off that pollen.”
Allergies can cause a lot of fatigue and even poor concentration and poor sleep, if they are not well controlled.
Plan your day wisely.
Pollen counts tend to be higher in the morning, from 5 to 10 a.m., Ogbogu explains.
“You should at least be aware of that. Some people like to go for a morning run or walk their dog in the morning,” she said. “We don’t want someone to have to live in a bubble, so the goal is to look at measures and therapies to decrease the immune system response to the allergens instead.”
Protect your eyes outside.
Wearing sunglasses can help, especially if you’re someone who gets a lot of eye itching or watering when around pollen, Ogbogu said. This can block pollen from hitting your eyes.
Avoid touching your face, especially your nose and eyes.
“Often you can transfer pollen simply by touching,” she said. “If you can’t shower when you return indoors, at least wash your hands. Rinsing off your face can help as well.”
Wind alert: Pollen from up to 100 miles away.
Breathe cleaner air inside.
Get an air purifier with a HEPA filter to run in the bedroom, and make sure you’re regularly changing your heating and cooling system filters, Ogbogu said. Using one made more specifically for allergies can help as well.
“Unless all the windows are open, however, most of your exposure to pollen is going to be outdoors as opposed to indoors.”
Remember: Pollen travels.
Wind carries pollen from up to 100 miles away.
“On a nice breezy day, you’re having pollen blow from all over. It’s not necessarily what’s nearby that’s causing your reaction. It’s what’s in the vicinity that we worry about,” Ogbogu said.
The pollen counts collected and recorded for a region account for that. For example, the pollen count for Columbus, Ohio, is collected in Dayton, Ohio — and it’s accounting for all of central Ohio.
See a doctor for relief.
There are a lot of natural and over-the-counter (OTC) options that people can try, including medications, saline rinses and nasal sprays. If these measures and OTC medications aren’t giving you the reprieve from the allergies you crave, consult an allergist.
“It’s really good to figure what you are allergic to and find out what options are best for you. Each person is different,” Ogbogu said. “We take into account a person’s lifestyle, what they’re exposed to. Someone who works indoors would have a different plan than someone who’s a landscaper.
Allergies aren’t really a ‘one size fits all’ kind of assessment and treatment plan.”
Doctors also will help explore medications and immunotherapy options — basically desensitizing your immune response to the allergens so you don’t react to them in the first place.
“Getting a good handle on what allergies you have and understanding your management options will make a big difference in how you feel and how well your allergies are controlled,” Ogbogu said.