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Spring Survival Guide

This article was written by Victoria Hittner and was featured in our February issue of Home By Design magazine. To visit the original Home By Design article and view more photos, click here.


The warmer temperatures of spring bring a breath of fresh air for many. But for the roughly 60 million Americans living with seasonal allergic rhinitis, or “hay fever,” that breath carries an unwelcome visitor: pollen.

From trees to grass to weeds, the growing season means a sharp increase in airborne pollen—the culprit behind that stuffy nose and sneezing you might experience every year. And while there is no cure for seasonal allergies, there are many ways to manage your symptoms and mitigate discomfort.

Photography provided by Cecilie_Arcurs/E+/Getty Images

Plan Ahead.

Maximize the data that’s available at your fingertips thanks to websites like the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (www.aafa.org) and apps like WebMD Allergy. Pollen counts are updated regularly to help determine which days are your best bets for outdoor activities. And when you do head outside, keep in mind that pollen counts tend to rise in the morning and peak around noon.

Weather plays an important role in pollen production, so don’t forget to check your local forecast. While pollen counts usually drop immediately after rain showers, they rise quickly if subsequent days are sunny.

Travel Smart.

Warmer temperatures also bring more opportunities for travel. Keeping your allergies in mind when crafting that vacation itinerary could make for a much more comfortable trip. The AAFA releases a list of US cities with the worst pollen counts during the spring and fall. Densely populated urban areas often rank higher due to increased temperatures; an abundance of heat-absorbent surfaces and reduced vegetation increases air pollution, which can in turn aggravate allergy symptoms.

Keep It Clean.

Frequently cleaning your house—and its inhabitants!—is one of the best ways to combat allergens. Whenever possible, use a dryer instead of air drying your linens and clothes. Taking your shoes off before coming inside, and hopping in the shower before bed can reduce the amount of pollen you’re tracking inside, too. And don’t forget about the furry members of your family. Pets who spend time outside can pick up plenty of allergens. Try brushing them outside and wiping down their paws before they get too far in the house. If you groom them yourself, consider wearing a mask during peak allergy season.

For those with more severe allergies, investing in a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration system may be necessary. Consult with a heating and cooling professional before installing a HEPA filter in your existing unit, however. (The high level of filtration can actually reduce the output of air, making your system less efficient.) For those without a centralized heating and cooling system, stand-alone air purifiers work well in individual rooms. You can even find vacuum cleaners that utilize HEPA filters.

Look into Immunotherapy.

In addition to nasal sprays and antihistamines, an allergist may prescribe some form of immunotherapy. Using shots or pills, immunotherapy reduces allergic reactions by gradually increasing exposure to particular allergens. Over time, this process increases the body’s natural tolerance. It’s important to note that not everyone is a good candidate for immunotherapy, nor can it treat every allergy.

Treat Naturally.

Although you should talk with your doctor before trying any alternative treatments, natural remedies may provide symptom relief. Acupuncture is a popular alternative route, as are home remedies like saline solutions. When mixing the solution at home, make sure to use distilled or bottled water to reduce the possibility of infection. Plants like stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and butterbur (Petasites hybridus) may also be effective at reducing inflammation and treating allergy symptoms. Cook the stinging nettle leaves into stews or soups or use it dried to make a tea. Butterbur extract should be taken as a pill or used as an oil.

You know that all that pollen in the air means good things for the food chain. In fact, you may look at bees with new admiration since they have been in the spotlight the past few years. But, if you have seasonal allergies, it’s easy to lose sight of the benefits of pollen when you feel so crummy. Here’s why they might be hitting you hard.

The Response. There’s no scientific consensus as to why pollen produces an immune response in some individuals but not others. When a body interprets pollen as a potential threat, it creates extra antibodies to combat the allergen. This causes an inflammatory response, which manifests in the symptoms known as hay fever.

Peak Seasons. Knowing when different pollens peak can help you identify your specific allergies. Most seasonal pollen allergies stem from trees, grass, or weeds. Tree pollens are most prevalent in the spring, while grass pollens appear throughout the spring and summer. Fall allergies are typically caused by ragweed pollen.

Influences. Pollen count is affected by season, temperature, weather, and time of day. The allergy season in the southern and eastern US, for example, often lasts longer due to milder winters and higher humidity. Keep an eye out for dry, windy days; higher amounts of pollen are transferred in the air, causing symptoms to worsen.