If it seems too early to be suffering from spring allergies, you’re right: The itching, sneezing and sniffling are arriving sooner each year. And if 2012 is any harbinger of the season still to come, the situation isn’t looking good.
“For the past decade, we’ve seen an increase in the duration of the allergy season,” says Angel Waldron, spokeswoman for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. “It used to be a March to May thing, really cut-and-dried, just those three months.”
But now, thanks to warmer temperatures, trees start to pollinate in some regions in February, extending the spring allergy season by a month or so. When pollens are released into the air earlier, even if they’re killed by a subsequent cold snap, their presence has a “priming effect” that can make spring allergies more severe when the full-fledged season hits, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).
Many of the worst places to live if you suffer from spring allergies are clustered in the Southeast, where allergists report they were already seeing patients with symptoms in February this year. In fact, three Tennessee cities, with Knoxville at the top, made the Top Ten list compiled by the AAFA last year.
So if you come down with a cold every year around the same time in late winter or early spring, and it lasts for well over a week, it might not be a cold. It might be spring allergies.
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“If you go get tested, you won’t have to deal with that ‘cold,’ every year,” said Waldron.
One of the most important things you can also do to alleviate spring allergies is to find out what you’re actually allergic to. That will make both prevention and treatment of your spring allergies a lot more targeted. For most people, pollen is the big culprit, but it helps to know for sure.
Here are more tips to help you better cope with spring allergies.
- Monitor the pollen counts in your area. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology maintains an online allergy bureau where you can check on the pollen activity in your region. See: http://www.aaaai.org/global/nab-pollen-counts.aspx
- “Keep your windows closed in the spring,” says Waldron. “The worst you can do if you’re allergic to pollen is to open your windows because you’re inviting that pollen into your home and into your lungs.”
- Stay inside as much as possible during the middle of the day, roughly the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. window. “If you have to go outside during those hours, when you come back in, make sure you remove your shoes at the door and change your clothes if you can,” said Waldron. “Pollen will stick to you, and you’ll bring it back inside with you.”
- Wash your hair before you go to bed to avoid having pollen on your pillow and by your face all night long.
- Clean house regularly. That includes dusting and vacuuming on a weekly basis, especially if you have carpet, which can trap allergens.
- Buy and install air filters. The most effective way to filter the air in your home is to install a filter in your HVAC system, but if that’s not possible, go with a stand-alone model for your bedroom. “That’s where you spend 80 percent of your time when you’re home,” says Waldron.