The second it starts to become nice out, many people get the itch to spend as much free time outdoors as possible. Many favorite activities happen when the weather gets warmer, the days get longer, and everything blooms. Some of these activities include:
Sometimes people with seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever, are not as thrilled with the seasonal change. As the pollen count rises with the temperature, their allergies kick in.
It can seem difficult, or even impossible, to enjoy the outdoors if you’re sneezing and coughing and your eyes are watering.
So how can you go for a hike, take a bike ride, or even just lie out in the sun without having an allergy attack?
There are a number of ways to manage your allergy symptoms and still enjoy your favorite outdoor activities. Allergies are very individual so it’s best to know what your triggers are.
It’s important to understand what you are allergic to, how best to avoid those allergens, and what treatments are best.
Outdoor allergies are usually caused by pollen and mold spores in the air. But there are ways you can limit your exposure to allergens and treat your symptoms.
Check the pollen count
It’s important to check the pollen count before starting the day if you’re going to be outside. You can usually find the pollen count through the weather forecast.
Knowing the pollen count gives you a better idea of what reactions to expect. It’s best if you find a report specific enough to mention what kinds of pollen are most active.
It’s also good to be aware of the weather. Hot, dry, and windy conditions give pollen the chance to travel around and make things worse for allergy sufferers.
Wait until later in the day
The worst time of day for pollen and spores is in the morning, from around sunrise until late morning. If you are planning a day outside, try to make plans after lunch. Although it may be warmer outside later in the day during the summer, the tradeoff will be fewer allergy symptoms.
Watch your activity level
Working out can often be more pleasant outside. But it might be wise to limit the kinds of activities you participate in. Strenuous aerobic workouts cause deeper breathing. This results in more allergens being taken into the lungs.
Running, for example, is a very strenuous aerobic form of exercise. It may be a good idea to practice low-impact exercises instead, and save the running for the treadmill inside.
You can also test the air outside for comfort at higher levels of activity. If you just love running outside, plan to do your running in the evening, rather than early in the morning.
Grow more allergy friendly plants in your garden
If you have a yard or a garden, it’s worth considering trees and other plants that are less problematic for people with allergies. Some plants produce less pollen, or have larger pollen that is less likely to become airborne.
The following plants are more allergy friendly:
- apple trees
- cherry trees
- pear trees
According to the National Institute of Environmental Sciences, the trees that can cause seasonal allergies include:
You should also try to avoid mowing the lawn, raking leaves, or other gardening tasks that can stir up pollen and mold.
Keep the pollen in one place
Try to keep hats, shoes, and any clothes you wear outside in a contained area or entryway. This way, the articles of clothing most responsible for bringing spores and pollen into your home won’t spread allergens around your living space.
It’s also a good idea to shower and change your clothes after going inside. This will get rid of excess pollen that may be on your skin or hair. Also avoid hanging clothes and sheets outside so they don’t catch pollen.
There are numerous over-the-counter options to help treat allergy symptoms. Antihistamines are particularly helpful in alleviating sneezing, water eyes, and an itchy nose. The most common options include tablets or capsules that include:
- fexofenadine (Allegra)
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- loratadine (Claritin)
- cetirizine (Zyrtec)
Glucocorticoid nasal sprays like fluticasone (Flonase) are the most effective single maintenance therapy for allergic nasal irritation. And there are few side effects when used as directed. These are particularly effective in the treatment of nasal congestion.
Other nasal sprays like cromolyn sodium prevent the release of histamines and leukotrienes to prevent allergic reactions.
Decongestants don’t prevent the release of histamines. Instead, they offer relief by alleviating stuffiness and sinus pain. Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) is available in pill form, while oxymetazoline (Afrin) is a nasal spray version. Some antihistamines also include decongestants, such as Allegra-D and Claritin-D.
The key to medication effectiveness is to start taking it before allergy season starts. Don’t wait until you start having allergy symptoms. Also, taking the medication consistently will yield the best results.
Wear a mask to filter out pollen
Wearing a filter mask can separate you from the microscopic “monsters” that set off your allergies. Although some people are hesitant to wear what they think of as a surgical mask in public, there is nothing wrong with it. It may be better than staying inside.
Talk to a doctor
When lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications don’t seem to offer any relief, it may be time to see a doctor. While family physicians can help, you may benefit more from seeing an allergist.
Allergists often recommend skin prick tests to help determine the allergens you are most sensitive to. An allergist can then prescribe stronger antihistamines and decongestants if necessary.
If you experience asthmatic symptoms from outdoor allergens, your allergist will likely want to see you periodically to check your condition.
Finally, it may even be possible to alter the way your immune system responds to allergens through allergy shots. Also called immunotherapy, this process involves getting shots that contain small amounts of the allergens that give you the most grief.
Over time, you may become desensitized to the allergens and then won’t be as reliant on medications. The downside is that allergy shots may cause reactions like swelling, redness, and hives. For this reason, you’ll be asked to stay at the allergist’s office for several minutes after getting the shots so they can make sure you don’t have a reaction.
Sublingual immunotherapy is a shot-free option that uses daily under-the-tongue tablets instead.
Being outside is physically and emotionally beneficial, regardless of your activity level. If you take a few precautions it can be possible for you to be outside, and enjoy it, too!
The following precautions can all contribute to your health and comfort when going outside:
- monitoring the pollen count
- restricting your activity level outside
- scheduling outside activities later in the day
- wearing a pollen mask
You can also help control the effects of allergens you might accidentally bring into your home by doing the following:
- use an air conditioner
- clean air filters regularly
- leave windows closed
- use a vacuum with a HEPA filter
- wash bedding once a week in hot water
- take a shower as soon as you enter the house to get rid of allergens
With these few safeguards, you can enjoy being outside during the summer, even if you have seasonal allergies.