It’s been an especially long winter. Pandemic isolation combined with the seemingly never-ending snow and cold has many of us longing for springtime. But, if you are one of the 50 million Americans who suffer from allergies, you may not be quite as enthusiastic about the change of seasons.
Is it allergies or Covid?
This year’s allergy season will bring with it added anxiety since the varied symptoms of COVID can often mimic other ailments. Fortunately, while there is some overlap between COVID and allergy symptoms, there are some distinct differences that can help you identify why you’re not feeling your best.
COVID is a complicated illness with a whole range of potential symptoms that can last well beyond a positive test result. Some of the most common are cough, fatigue, fever, shortness of breath, headaches, sore throat, loss of taste and smell, and skin rashes.
The symptoms of seasonal allergies generally include nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy/watery eyes, and sneezing.
Where things get confusing…
While COVID and allergy symptoms seem to be pretty different, they can sometimes overlap. For instance, congestion from allergies may lead to headaches, and a post-nasal drip may cause a sore throat or cough… all of which are COVID symptoms.
Dry cough, shortness of breath, and loss of smell are generally signs that you’re dealing with something more severe than seasonal allergies and are a clear indication to get tested for COVID-19.
But, if you’re a regular seasonal allergy sufferer, there’s one unmistakable symptom that allergies are the culprit of your discomfort: Itchiness. Itchy nose and eyes are common with allergies, but rare for viral infections like COVID-19.
So, if I know it’s allergies, why do I feel so much worse than usual?
Even if you’re someone who has suffered from seasonal allergies your whole life, you may have some questions. Have my symptoms gotten worse? Has there always been THIS much pollen? Is this just in my head?
Unfortunately, you’re not imagining it. The Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change has issued an urgent warning that climate change is drastically affecting pollen count by altering seasonal changes. Today, pollen emerges sooner and sticks around longer, making allergy season longer and more intense than it’s ever been before.
Not only is allergy season worse, but more people are being affected by it. Currently, 10-30% of the world’s population suffer from seasonal allergies. In America alone, 35 million people every year experience hay fever caused by wind-borne pollen or mold spores.
If you are one of those people, you know how miserable allergy symptoms can make you. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to minimize your symptoms.
Understand your triggers
Understanding the specifics of things that you’re allergic to can be a big step in prevention. For instance, if you’re allergic to oak, birch, hickory, pecan, or grass, you may want to limit your outdoor time in the early spring. If ragweed is what triggers you, then late summer and fall might be a good time to work on some indoor projects. An allergist can be helpful in figuring out exactly what is causing your symptoms.
Once you know exactly what’s causing your allergies, you can make adjustments to your outdoor plans and your indoor air to minimize your exposure.
In the Great Outdoors
While allergies can be present anywhere, typically people with pollen allergies suffer most outdoors. There are some things you can do to lower your exposure, while still enjoying some outdoor time.
Know your local pollen count
The weather has a big impact on how much pollen is in the air. For instance, windy days generally have higher pollen counts because pollen rides on the breeze and spreads everywhere. On the other hand, moisture weighs down pollen, so rainy days are less likely to make you sneeze. To minimize your pollen exposure, check the pollen count in your area online before heading out.
Sunglasses can create a barrier to keep a lot of the pollen and spores from getting into your eyes. Allergies tend to make you more sensitive to sunlight as well, so sunglasses can also make being outdoors easier. Look for dark glasses that wrap around your head to block out pollen from all sides.
Adjust your travel plans
While pollen season can last for months, there is often a shorter window where it’s most intense. Stay indoors as much as you can until the worst of it is over. Similarly, avoid traveling to places during allergy season that are more likely to trigger your allergies.
Plan out your garden
Pollen counts vary greatly by plant. For instance, ragweed, one of the highest pollen producers, is estimated to produce up to one billion pollen grains per plant per year. And, it’s only getting worse. A study in 2000 found that ragweed pollen production has increased with rising carbon dioxide levels.
Fortunately, there are many flowers, shrubs, trees, and grasses that produce minimal or even no pollen, and other species that produce it only in male plants. Check online resources before deciding what to add to your garden.
In Your Home
While we often worry about the risks of outdoor pollution, the truth is that indoor air contains up to 5 times more pollutants than outdoor air, many of which can cause allergic reactions. Managing your indoor air is even more important during the spring and fall when pollen can get into your home.
Be mindful of indoor plants
Most flowering plants are pollinated by insects, so indoor houseplants are less likely to cause pollen allergies. But, the soil that the plants grow in can bring a lot of unwanted mold spores into your home. Remove dead plant debris, provide plenty of sunlight, and don’t overwater your plants to keep mold from growing.
However, there is also some evidence that some indoor plants may help lower pollutants and reduce allergy symptoms. The Clean Air Study from NASA in the 1980s tested the impact of indoor plants on pollution levels and found that there are up to 50 common houseplants which can effectively remove pollutants.
Adjust Home Humidity
Mold is a major source of allergy symptoms. Without sufficient moisture, mold won’t be able to grow. To help control indoor mold, use a dehumidifier or air conditioner that keeps your home humidity close to 50 percent.
Keep Troublespots Clean
Allergy sufferers know how important having a clean home can be to minimizing symptoms. Things like wiping down surfaces and vacuuming should be done every day. But, it’s also important to remember those often-overlooked spots like windows, curtains, laundry rooms, basements, refrigerator drain pans, and old books. Wear a mask while cleaning and get out of the house for a few hours afterward to let the air clear so that your allergy symptoms aren’t triggered.
If you have allergies, any pollutants that get into your nose or mouth can aggravate your symptoms and make you even more vulnerable to irritation from pollen. During allergy season be particularly careful to avoid products with strong odors such as perfume, hair spray, paint fumes, and air fresheners. Don’t use wood-fire burning stoves or allow anyone to smoke in your home.
Treating allergies can be very expensive. In fact, every year, Americans spend over $18 billion on medication, inhalers, and hospitalization for severe symptoms. While sometimes medication is necessary, there are some less-expensive home remedies and devices that may help reduce your symptoms.
Try (scientifically-proven) ancient wisdom
There are countless home remedies used for allergies, most of which aren’t backed by any real proof of their effectiveness. However, there are some, like butterbur, Quercetin, and Bromelain whose allergy-reducing capabilities have been backed by science.
Rinse your sinuses
Neti-pots can provide some relief from allergy symptoms by flushing out mucus and allergens from your nose. But, it’s important that you do it properly. The FDA recommends only using distilled, sterile or previously boiled water, never tap.