Hay fever is neither caused by hay nor associated with fever. Nevertheless, the term has come to describe the sneezing, runny nose, congestion and itchy eyes that millions experience seasonally or year-round—although allergic rhinitis is more accurate. Our lifestyle strategies can help reduce your chances of misery. You can also try an over-the-counter medication. If this doesn't provide relief, your doctor may prescribe other medication.
In early spring, pollen from trees is the first to become airborne. In late spring and summer, grass pollen and mold spores take flight. In late summer and fall, weeds (most commonly ragweed) are to blame. But pollen isn’t the only troublemaker, and you can be allergic to more than one substance. Mold spores outnumber pollen grains, growing on soil and vegetation, such as fallen leaves. Year-round allergies may be triggered by indoor allergens (such as household mold, dust mites & animal dander). People with such allergies are at greater risk of earlier and more severe symptoms of seasonal allergies.
Stay indoors, if possible, when pollen levels are high (dry, windy days are usually the worst). Radio and television stations often broadcast pollen counts, and you can get local information and forecasts from the National Allergy Bureau (telephone 800-9-POLLEN) and at pollen.com. Try to do outdoor tasks in the evening, when pollen tends to be lower. But even if counts are low, you may still have a reaction. As the season progresses, some people become more sensitive to allergens; on the other hand, some have more severe symptoms during the first few weeks of the season.
Keep doors and windows shut (even at night) and the air conditioning on, if needed (central A/C is more effective than window units in reducing indoor allergens). Make sure the filter is clean or you may end up blowing allergens around.
Many people with allergic rhinitis are affected by at least one plant in their home, most commonly ficus and yucca, followed by ivy and palm trees. Mold spores are often found on the leaves of indoor plants and can cause allergic symptoms. Such allergens from plants may become airborne and become part of household dust.
When driving, keep the windows closed and the air conditioner on recycle mode, not vent. Because mold can grow in a car’s A/C system, however, keep the windows open part way for 10 minutes after you turn it on. Some newer cars come with filter systems.
Mowing the lawn and raking leaves kick up pollen and mold spores. If you can’t get someone else to tackle these chores, wear a disposable dust mask or a higher-filtration model (such as N95), available at hardware stores. Be sure there are no air gaps around the edges when you adjust it.
If you’re spending time outdoors, wear wraparound sunglasses to keep allergens out of your eyes. Leave your shoes outside when you come in. Take a shower after doing yard work or just being outside when pollen counts are high; then put on clean clothes. (To prevent allergen exposure, don’t line-dry your laundry outdoors.) Washing your hair may prevent nighttime sneezing caused by pollen and mold spores that fall from your hair onto the pillow.
Nasal filters, worn inside the nostrils, may help reduce allergy symptoms by catching pollen and other allergens before they come in contact with mucous membranes. These are available at drugstores and some large chain stores as well.
Don’t smoke and avoid smoky environments and air pollution as much as possible. Smoke and pollution may lower your sensitivity threshold to allergens.
Research has linked alcohol, especially heavier intakes, to increased risk of allergic rhinitis. Alcohol can also worsen nasal symptoms.
If you’re allergic to pollen, you may also react to raw produce or other foods with a similar protein. Called oral allergy syndrome, symptoms include itching and sometimes swelling of the mouth, throat, lips, tongue or face. For example, people allergic to grass may react to peaches, celery, tomatoes, melons and oranges, while those with ragweed allergies may have trouble with bananas, cucumbers, melon and zucchini. Avoid problematic foods during hay fever season; or bake, microwave or peel the food or try canned.
Don't assume that moving to another part of the country will prevent your hay fever. There are many types of pollen (especially grasses) and mold spores throughout the country, so it's unlikely that moving will solve the problem. Even if the types of pollen that have been bothering you are not in the new region, your immune system may end up reacting to those in your new location.