“Bless you!” One in five Americans suffers from seasonal allergies, so you’re probably hearing plenty of blessings this spring. “The growth patterns of trees, grasses, molds and weeds can trigger itchy eyes and nose, sneezing, runny nose, post-nasal drip and more,” says Dale Amanda Tylor, MD, MPH, General and Pediatric Otolaryngologist and Head and Neck Surgeon in Fremont, California.
“There are many theories, but no scientifically known lifestyle habits can increase risk of developing allergies,” says Philip G. Chen, MD, Assistant Professor & Program Director for Rhinology in the Department of Otolaryngology for Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Texas Health in San Antonio. “It is clear, however, that exposure to allergens can make symptoms worse.” While “avoidance is one of the best options,” Chen adds, it’s nearly impossible to steer clear of every pollen spore or clip of grass.
And though OTC meds may help, 18 to 48 percent of those with allergic rhinitis (the nose-based symptoms also known as hay fever) see little to no relief with pills or sprays. But there are still things you can do to help reduce your allergy symptoms. Short of stocking up on antihistamines, study up on five sneaky habits that might make those red, itchy eyes and runny noses worse — and what to do instead.
5 Unexpected Ways You’re Making Your Seasonal Allergies Worse
1. Showering in the morning.
Regardless of what you’re allergic to and how your body reacts, it’s wise to get squeaky clean before — not after — tucking in at night. Showering and changing clothes when you get home can help remove the pollen from your skin as much as possible. You can also use nasal saline irrigations to rinse the pollen from your nasal lining, Tylor says.
2. Sleeping under dirty covers.
Skipping that evening shower will also trap allergens in your bedding. “Anything that keeps you in more prolonged contact with the allergens can be detrimental,” says Tylor. Being outside or having windows open when the pollen you are affected by is high are some ways, says Tylor. By the same token, you’ll want to wash your favorite spring jacket, since that traps allergens in the lining, too.
Aim to launder your sheets weekly and your clothes after each wear during peak allergy season. To determine when that is, “it all depends on what is pollinating, when,” Tylor says. “First trees pollinate, then grasses, followed by weeds. Molds can be early and late in the season. So if you are allergic to only one of these, you will have symptoms only during the time that one thing is pollinating but not at other times. The tricky part is that you can be allergic to more than one thing.”
3. Exercising al fresco.
Spring is great for getting active outdoors — unless your tissues get more action than you do. Late morning is prime pollen time during spring and summer, while evenings are worst for allergy sufferers come fall, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Want a closer read? Pollen.com reports the daily allergen rating on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (sky-high), in addition to the top plant culprits. You can also subscribe to get notified when levels are expected to climb over 4 (the level at which most people begin to sniffle).
On those allergen-heavy days, plan gym or pool workouts or schedule your sweat session for off-peak hours. If you’re part of the lucky crew that finds respite after a pill or spray, just make sure that you start early, since relief isn’t immediate. “If you know you always have issues in, say, the start of May, start taking your allergy medication a couple of weeks earlier so it’s already working when it is your bad time,” Tylor recommends.
4. Wearing dirty contact lenses.
Are you one of the 40 million folks who wears contacts? Chances are they’re much less sanitary than you think. In fact, only one in every 50 lens wearers takes care of their contacts according to optometrist recommendations, a study shows. For allergy sufferers, that means more itchy sensations and overall sensitivity. Consider switching to disposable daily contacts, which the American Academy of Ophthalmology says are now just about a dollar a pair. Or, swap your one-step solution for one with hydrogen peroxide to help sterilize your contacts more thoroughly.
5. Eating a diet rich in (certain) fruits and veggies.
A well-balanced meal plan can help alleviate symptoms, but certain fruits and vegetables are chemically similar to allergens that our bodies react to in a defensive way. “Some fruits and vegetables have similar protein structures to pollens, so they might worsen symptoms of seasonal allergies,” Chen explains. “For example, apples and celery proteins are similar to birch pollen, so a person allergic to birch may suffer worsening symptoms when the person eats apples or celery.” Other common triggers include bananas, cantaloupe, honeydew, bell peppers, cabbage, peaches, tomatoes, watermelon and zucchini. Take note of when you experience a scratchy throat or swelling in or around the mouth, and avoid trigger foods. (“Difficulty breathing or swallowing, especially with nuts, can be a sign of anaphylaxis, a condition that needs emergency medical attention,” Chen warns.)
For more tips to make your sleep space allergy-free, check out this infographic from our friends at sleepypeople.com