Ah, spring. Trees are budding and gentle breezes are blowing— and your nose is running, your eyes are itching, and your brain is fuzzy. As much as you'd love to just curl up with a box of tissues, you shrug it off and soldier on. After all, it's only allergies, right?
While it's easy to trivialize these annoying symptoms—which plague some 36 million Americans—experts say they're nothing to sneeze at. In fact, 80 percent of seasonal allergy sufferers report being less productive because of the condition, costing the U.S. economy an estimated $700 million a year in lost work, according to a study by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Also called hay fever, seasonal allergies worsen when the weather warms up and blossoming flowers, trees, weeds, and grasses spew pollen into the air. "An overzealous immune system mistakes these harmless particles for intruders and releases inflammatory chemicals called histamines and leukotrines to combat them," explains Thomas B. Casale, chief of allergy/ immunology at Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Nebraska, and president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI). Consequently, your airways and nasal linings swell, triggering congestion, wheezing, and foggy thinking.
Although experts aren't clear why people develop the lifelong condition in the first place, they say genes are partly to blame. While there's no instant fix for seasonal allergies, making a few tweaks to your environment and schedule—like showering at night instead of in the a.m.—can alleviate symptoms. Try these easy everyday strategies and you'll finally have a sniffle-free spring.
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1. Block out allergens: The No. 1 antiallergy move is to keep those triggers at bay, so be sure to leave your windows shut during pollen season. Then run the air conditioner on the "recycle" setting, which filters the air that’s indoors. "That will trap any particles that did sneak inside," says Eric Schenkel, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of medicine at Drexel University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. Also rinse or replace the filter every two weeks to remove any dust and keep it running efficiently.