Spring has sprung—but it's not all cherry blossoms and tulips. Thanks to an unusually mild winter, allergy season has blown in ahead of schedule, and is expected to last up to a month longer than usual. It's also going to spell extra-itchy eyes and stuffy noses for sufferers. "People who [have] allergies are going to be in worse shape than usual," says Joseph Leija, an allergist at Loyola University Health System's Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, Ill. "Even people who don't usually have problems are already sneezing."
Here's a spring allergy survival guide, with eight unconventional strategies to get you through it:
1. Don't stop to smell the flowers. Yes, they're pretty, but sniffing a daffodil or tulip could aggravate your symptoms. Fragrances and pollen from star jasmine, narcissus, gardenia, and lily of the valley are most likely to make you sneeze. Allergy-friendly plants and flowers include gladiolus, periwinkle, begonia, bougainvillea, iris, and orchid, says Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York.
[See: In Pictures: Worst Cities for Spring Allergy Sufferers.]
2. Wash your hair. Your hair is a pollen magnet, so take care not to pollinate your house when you go indoors. If you fall asleep with pollen in your hair, it will attach to your pillow, potentially causing nighttime allergy flare-ups. "Wash your hair before you go to bed at night, so it's not trapped right next to your nose, where you're inhaling it," Leija says. Go a step further by washing bed linens at least once a week in 130-degree water, which will rid your bed of pollen and kill dust mite eggs—another symptom trigger.
3. Don't line dry. Hanging laundry outside is a surefire way to capture allergens. Pollen will easily stick to linens, towels, and whatever else is on the line. If you must air dry, do so indoors.
4. Eat right. You can fight allergies with your diet. Vitamin C-rich foods have been shown to unblock clogged sinuses, so load up on grapefruit, oranges, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Research suggests that quercetin—found in black tea, green tea, apples, red onions, and berries—inhibits the release of histamines, which trigger itching, sneezing, a runny nose, and watery eyes. And pineapple and papaya contain bromelain, a mixture of enzymes thought to improve seasonal allergy symptoms.
5. Wear sunglasses. "Be a movie star," Bassett says. Wearing oversized shades can "block out pesky pollens from getting into your eyes and eyelids." Also smart? Sport a pollen mask and gloves while you're outside, and avoid touching your face and eyes.
6. Forget the fan. Beat the heat with air conditioning, not fans. Window fans can invite pesky pollen and mold spores into your home. When you're in the car, you should likewise keep cool with AC. Sorry, sunroof!
7. Stay inside. Stay indoors as much as possible, Leija suggests. Rather than running outside, for example, take your exercise routine to the nearest gym. Since plants typically pollinate in the early-morning hours, it's particularly important to postpone outside activity until after 12 p.m. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology's National Allergy Bureau displays pollen and mold counts for every area in the country on its website. When levels are particularly high, you'll know to take extra steps to limit your time outside. The highest pollen levels are typically recorded on warm, dry, and windy days, while the lowest are on windless, wet, and cloudy days.
8. Maintain the dog. When your Golden retriever frolics in the grass, he collects allergens like mold and pollen. Wash his paws before allowing him back into the house.
9. Leave your shoes at the door. It's not just your dog who tracks allergens inside the house. Pollens can hitch a ride inside on shoes, so take them off either before stepping foot indoors or immediately upon entry.