It’s not your imagination—spring allergy season really is getting worse every year. (Thanks, climate change.) Pollen seasons now start 20 days earlier and last 10 days longer than they did in 1990, according to recent research, and pollen counts are up 21%. If you’ve been thinking of each spring’s season as something to just white-knuckle your way through, it may be time to take a different approach.
If you’ve been mostly ignoring your allergies and hoping they pass quickly, let’s go over a few small changes that can help. (Veteran allergy sufferers are probably doing these things already.)
First of all, pollen comes from the outdoors. So do your best to keep it there. Instead of opening the windows on a nice spring day, keep them closed and rely on your house’s ventilation system to adjust the temperature as needed. Replace your system’s air filter with a fresh one that has a high MERV rating; we have more on choosing and changing air filters here. In the car, the recirculate button will keep outdoor air outside.
Besides blowing in on the air, pollen can also enter your house on clothes, shoes, hair, and pet fur. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends the following:
To find out when pollen will be at its worst, check a site like pollen.com or your local weather forecast.
The most pollen is in the air in the early morning and around dusk. If you’re going outside during high pollen times, consider wearing sunglasses or even a mask (N95's are great at blocking pollen).
If you’re considering moving (or traveling during pollen season) you may want to take a look at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation’s list of “allergy capitals” where pollen is worst and allergy specialists are harder to find. Last year, the rankings also included the best cities for seasonal allergy sufferers, with Fresno, CA, Phoenix, AZ, and Provo, UT topping the list.
With the easy things out of the way, it may be time to start looking at tougher decisions. Carpets, for example, can trap pollen. They can also harbor other allergens, like dust and dust mites. If you’re struggling with your allergies, it might be time to pull them up and switch to hardwood or other smooth flooring.
Regular cleaning also helps. Get into the habit of vacuuming frequently, ideally with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter to trap small particles. Remove things you can’t easily clean, and set up a cleaning schedule to make sure you aren’t neglecting the task.
Allergy covers on pillows and mattresses are meant to dust mite allergens from working their way in where they can’t be cleaned. If you have a dust allergy, get a set of these protectors, and make sure you’re washing bedding, curtains, pillows, and other textiles frequently. (Dust mites aren’t seasonal like pollen, but if you’re allergic to both, you don’t need that double-whammy.)
Consider an air purifier as well. These devices filter allergens out of the air and some people find they help reduce symptoms.
Over-the-counter medications like Claritin can help to take the edge off allergy symptoms, but if you’re still miserable even while you’re taking them, it may be time for professional help. See an allergist to find out whether other medications or approaches might be appropriate for you (and to control your asthma, if you have that in addition to allergies).
If you’ve just been living with an assumption that you’re allergic to “something,” an allergy test can help narrow down exactly what your triggers are. Maybe you need to pay more attention to mold than to plant pollens, for example. The more you know, the more targeted an approach you can take.