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Spring allergies may not only be more severe this year, but you may also experience symptoms earlier. raquel arocena torres/Getty Images
  • Many people may experience seasonal allergies earlier and more severely this year.
  • High pollen counts caused by climate change mean pollen season now starts earlier and has a higher pollen percentage than it did three decades ago.
  • You can manage symptoms by taking over-the-counter meds, adjusting your diet, and staying hydrated.
  • If you experience breathing or chest symptoms, you should see a doctor.

Sneezing. Itchy eyes. A stuffy nose. You might recognize these as the symptoms of spring allergies, and if you live with them, you may notice you’re experiencing symptoms earlier and earlier every year.

It’s not your imagination. Thanks to a number of factors, including record-high pollen counts, seasonal allergies appear to be starting earlier this year and presenting more severely, particularly in North- and South-East parts of the United States.

In fact, one study published in 2021 reports that pollen season starts 20 days earlier and has 21% more pollen than it did in 1990.

Spring allergies (also known as hay fever) affect around 60 million people in the United States each year, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For most people, the symptoms are irritating and inconvenient, but in some cases, they can also be life threatening.

“Pollen seasons are getting earlier and earlier due to climate change causing unseasonably high temperatures starting earlier than typical springtime,” explains Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network. On top of that, climate change causes higher CO2 levels which contribute to super-pollinator plants that produce more pollen and higher counts. So, not only are the seasons longer but also stronger.”

In layman’s terms, a seasonal allergy is a reaction to an allergen in the air – usually pollen – that appears during specific times of the year.

“An allergic reaction occurs when the immune system develops IgE antibodies against a particular allergen like pollen,” Parikh surmises. “When you come into contact with these allergens, your immune system develops a hypersensitive response releasing a chemical called histamines into your bloodstream that has a cascading effect, causing allergy symptoms.”

The more of a specific allergen there is, the more severe your reaction to it is likely to be.

With higher pollen counts, you may notice that symptoms like nasal congestion, itchy water eyes, and cough are worse than usual.

In some cases, you may experience asthma attacks, wheezing, and shortness of breath, along with rashes and swelling of the skin.

Your allergies may also seem comparatively worse this year if you’re no longer wearing a protective face mask.

During the pandemic, when mask-wearing became commonplace, you may have noticed your allergies were less common and severe. This is because masks offer a level of protection against airborne allergens.

However, while masks played a large role in reducing symptoms in recent years, Parikh says climate change is the biggest factor that’s making allergy seasons longer and stronger.

While you can’t control the climate, there are ways to reduce your exposure to pollen.

“If the weather is going to be warm, avoid mowing the lawn or any similar yard work that could trigger your allergies,” advises Fred Pescatore, MD and author of The Allergy & Asthma Cure.

It’s a good idea to keep your home free from pollen, too.

“Try to keep your doors and windows closed on days where the pollen count may be high to help avoid pollen entering your home and getting on surfaces,” Pescatore says.

When the pollen count is high, you may also want to change your clothes and shower at night.

“Changing your clothes at night is crucial after spending the day outside as this will stop you from tracking pollen inside your home and bed,” Pescatore explains.

“Taking a shower before bed will also help remove pollen from your hair and skin. If you don’t do this, pollen can continue to cause irritation throughout the night,” he adds.

Even when you take all of these precautions, pollen can be tricky to avoid.

Parikh recommends 24-hour antihistamines like Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra for combating symptoms but says you should steer clear of anti-allergy medications containing decongestants as she claims these can make allergies worse.

If you’re looking for a natural remedy, Pescatore recommends Pycnogenol French Maritime Pine Bark Extract.

“This helps to curb the inflammatory response your body has against allergens, and Pycnogenol acts as an anti-inflammatory to reduce symptoms,” he explains.

Outside of medication, Pescatore says it’s a good idea to be mindful of your diet.

“Certain foods, like sugar, gluten, and dairy, can trigger inflammatory responses that make your seasonal allergies feel worse,” he notes.

“Swap these foods for local seasonal produce to decrease inflammation.”

Staying hydrated is another anti-allergy tip. “Your body produces more histamines when it’s dehydrated, so drinking water can help prevent your symptoms from getting worse,” Pescatore explains.

Parikh says you should consult a physician if you experience any breathing symptoms – like cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath – and also if you have chest pain, chest pressure, or chest tightness.

“These can be signs that you are developing asthma which can be deadly,” she warns.

You should also consult a doctor if your eye, nose, throat, or skin symptoms are not improving or if they’re getting worse with over-the-counter medications.

Thanks to climate change and higher pollen counts, you’ll likely experience spring allergies earlier and more severely this year.

Fortunately, you can manage spring allergies by reducing your exposure to pollen, taking over-the-counter remedies, and being mindful of what you eat and drink.

Ultimately though, if your symptoms are severe, you should see a doctor.