Hay fever is nothing to sneeze at.
Doctors and scientists say that statement is particularly true this year as the United States enters a longer and more intense allergy season.
Springtime means flowers and many other signs of life in nature, but what that means for many people is one thing: pollen.
Spring allergies and hay fever can vary drastically from one place to another based on the types of plants growing in any given geographic region.
Hay fever can feel quite similar to the common cold. Some of the symptoms include sinus pressure, congestion, sneezing, and a runny nose.
This spring, some areas have pollen levels three times higher than they were a year ago.
So what makes this year different?
According to a recent report by CBS News, many scientists believe the earlier and more intense allergy season may be linked to climate change.
“Because our spring was so delayed this year, many things are blooming up all at once,” said CBS medical contributor Dr. Holly Phillips. “What should have bloomed over a course of a month is now popping up all together, so we're seeing really, really high pollen levels.”
How to battle back
There are a variety of things you can do to limit the symptoms of hay fever.
First and foremost, regular over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines, such as Benadryl, and steroidal nasal sprays such as Flonase, are easy to find and helpful to many people.
For seasonal allergies, it’s also important to pay attention to daily pollen counts, said Tonya Winders, president of the Allergy & Asthma Network.
Pollen count is the measure of the amount of pollen in the air at a given time. It can be checked on a variety of websites, or through certain weather channels.
“Airborne pollen tends to be highest early in the day, just after the dew dries, and on into early afternoon,” Winders told Healthline. “High pollen levels can sometimes last until late afternoon. They can be most potent when conditions are warm, dry, and breezy.”
Be aware, she cautioned: “The pollen count is never zero.”
Hay fever is also affected by the type of activity you are doing. Physically intense activities like sports, hiking, and some kinds of manual labor are more likely to provoke symptoms.
During high pollen times, Winders said you should “avoid intense physical activity that causes rapid breathing. The faster you breathe, the more allergens you inhale.”
Home remedies, immune therapies
You can also help limit potential allergens from invading the home by changing clothing and shoes when entering.
Some people even take the additional step of showering if they have been outside for an extended period of time.
For outside activities, some people will wear a facemask that is designed to filter pollen.
For red, itchy eyes caused by hay fever, even just basic sunglasses can help prevent pollen from getting in.
Another option is a treatment called immunotherapy, which helps to build up an individual’s tolerance to allergens.
Like other immunization procedures, this treatment uses small amounts of a certain allergen that is gradually built up along with the person’s tolerance.
“For many, tolerance continues after immunotherapy ends. It has proven to reduce or eliminate allergy symptoms from pollen, mold, pet dander, dust mites, and stinging insects,” said Winders.
Finally, if you haven’t done so already, it may be best to see an allergist and actually find out your own allergy profile.
If you are allergic to grass pollen but not tree pollen, knowing that makes it easier to choose activities that will not exacerbate your symptoms.
“Managing allergies is a multistep process,” said Winders. “Patients need to be actively involved in their care.”