It may be a tough spring for some allergy sufferers: The unusually warm winter has ushered in an early start to seasonal sniffling, sneezing and watery eyes.
Hay fever symptoms are most often triggered by an allergic response to pollen, and a mild winter can cause trees and grass to produce the allergen sooner. Plus, scientists in the Netherlands recently found that hay fever feels worse at the beginning of the season than later in the summer, even when pollen counts are the same.
Hay fever afflicts more than one in five people. It's not really possible to avoid pollen completely, but here's how to reduce your exposure and keep springtime allergies under control:
Shift your morning walk: Consider moving it to the afternoon: Pollen counts are usually highest from 5 to 10 a.m., so limit time outside during those hours. And if possible, skip outdoor chores that stir up allergens, such as gardening, or at least wear a mask while doing so.
Shut pollen out: Wind can carry the pollen from trees and grass for miles. So even if you don't live near a park, it's best to keep your windows and doors closed when levels are high. Find pollen readings at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology's National Allergy Bureau (aaaai.org/nab).
Hang laundry indoors: Pollen may cling to your clothes, sheets and towels if you let them air-dry outside.
Ask about nose sprays: Prescription nasal corticosteroids are the most effective hay fever medication for many people; they reduce allergic inflammation, and they are safe for most for long-term use. The same may not be true for over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays - using them too often for too many days may make your symptoms worse. Talk to your doctor about your best options; other possible medications include antihistamines, cromolyn nose spray and oral decongestants.
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