They call it the pollen vortex.
As if a long, brutally cold winter wasn’t enough to deal with, it’s still causing problems. Experts say the prolonged freezing temperatures delayed the blooming of trees – which means tree pollen season will overlap with grass pollen and mold seasons, causing an intense pollen nightmare.
Considering all that pollen, here's a spring allergy survival guide. You'll have a little longer to try these 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.
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," says Joseph Leija, an allergist at Loyola University Health System's Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, Illinois. Go a step further by washing bed linens at least once a week in 130-degree F 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 & 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 such as 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.
10. Try a salty home remedy. Prepare a saltwater nose spray
by mixing 8 ounces of water with half a teaspoon of table salt in a squirt
bottle. Use it twice a day: when you wake up in the morning and again in the
evening. It will clear the allergens out of your nose. Salt water is thought to
restore moisture to dry nasal passages, while lessening the inflammation of
mucous membranes. You're most likely to benefit if you use it regularly, rather
than skipping days here and there.
Updated on May 5, 2014: This story was originally published on March 21, 2012. It has been updated to reflect the current allergy season.