For many, springtime means runny noses, puffy watery eyes, and general allergy-induced discomfort. Contrary to popular belief though, "allergy season" is not really a thing. Various allergens flare up throughout the entire year. But beginning as early as February, one of the biggest culprits of allergic flare-ups—tree pollen—starts to permeate the air.
Faisal Tawwab, M.D. at Multicare Physicians, says, "Allergies occur when the body perceives threats (allergens) entering the airways in the form of pollen, grass, and so on. The reason people with allergies tend to have runny noses or irritated eyes is because their body’s immune system is working in overdrive against those perceived threats by sending out histamines for combat."
Get a jump start on allergy season by taking these expert-recommended tips for a spin.
01. Skip That Breath of Fresh Air—Sort Of
After drab winter, it's tempting to overindulge in nature at the first signs of spring. For allergy sufferers, this is a big mistake. Experts at the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology suggest keeping the windows of your home and car shut. That warm breeze you seek will only usher in more pollen.
You should, however, refresh your home air filtration. Ionic air filters are popular, but the best course of action is actually a High Efficiency Particulate Arresting (HEPA) room air cleaner rated with a Clean Air Delivery Rate according to the ACAAI. Verily's lifestyle editor, a chronically pathetic allergy-sufferer, swears by her Dyson Purifier (you can get up to $100 off by April 1, 2017!). The ACAAI also advises those with central air to have air filters changed every three months and use filters with a MERV rating—a standard that rates the overall effectiveness of air filters—of 11 or 12.
02. Revitalize Your Nutrition Game
Dr. Tawwab recommends arming your immune system by focusing on nutritional health. "Artificial, processed foods like sugar and simple carbohydrates actually weaken your immune system," he says. We know that vitamin C is good for our immune system, but it turns out that sugar and vitamin C have similar chemical makeups. Dr. Tawwab warns that sugar and vitamin C have to fight each other for space in white blood cells (our immune system’s soldiers)—and sugar tends to win. Arm your defenses not with sweets and unhealthy carbs but rather with foods rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, kale, and bell peppers. Consuming foods high in omega-3 fatty acids also helps control inflammation triggered from your body's histamine response to allergens. Find omega-3 in foods such as avocado, salmon, chia seeds, grass-fed beef, and eggs.
03. Treat Bedding and Textiles Like Seasonal Clothing
Maintaining a clean home is important for everyone's health, but if you're susceptible to the pollen's wrath, think a little more strategically. Becca Napelbaum, a cleaning expert at the home service app Handy, says first and foremost, alleviate clutter and extraneous textiles. Throw pillows and blankets can trap allergens, so only keep what you really need and store the rest away during the high season of allergies. Napelbaum also suggests changing your pillow cases twice a week. "Hair, especially if it is long, easily traps pollen, which can then spread onto your pillow and disrupt your sleep with allergic symptoms," she says. Amy Esposito, M.D. at Oscar health, also advises patients to shower before bed. "This removes any allergens from your skin and hair so you can wake up without having breathed them in for the last eight hours," she says.
04. Give Symptoms a Two-Week Notice
Tania Elliott, M.D. and medical director at video health app Doctor on Demand, urges that your first treatment should be prevention. She recommends meeting with your doctor to create an avoidance plan. Points 1, 2, and 3 of this article would likely be part of that plan. But she adds that sufferers who take medicine should start doing so two weeks before they expect environmental factors to set in—not after symptoms are already manifesting. That means you should start your regime now. Dr. Elliot says the first line of therapy is a nasal steroid spray (such as Flonase), which is now available over the counter. "It needs to be taken every day in order for it to work—it takes about a week to build up in your system," she says. This form of medicine can dry out the nose, so consult a doctor if you have a history of nose bleeds or sensitivity.
Dr. Esposito says, "For those who suffer from springtime allergies, nothing can completely protect you—short of cutting off contact with the outside world!" But taking these steps before and during pollen season can make a big difference in making this season one of your most allergy-free yet.
Photo Credit: Sophie Hansen