If you live in the Northeast, you know this month has been a nonstop roller coaster of deceivingly nice weather, surprise snowstorms, and magical 40-degree, five-hour temperature transitions. Translation: It's just spring doing her usual thing.
But the fact is, we did have a pretty mild winter. February 2017 was the second warmest February on record since 1880 (when modern temperature recording began), according to NASA. The famous cherry blossoms in Washington, DC, even threatened to reach peak bloom earlier than ever before—until the mid-March cold snap literally nipped them in the bud, as reported by the Washington Post. (And, uh, this isn't super new: 16 of the 17 hottest years have occurred since 2000, according to a study published in Ecosphere.)
While we may have gotten to sidestep some shoveling and sub-zero temps, we're trading them for another seasonal struggle: spring allergies. Because of the early spring-like temps, the pollen season got a head start—meaning allergy sufferers on the East Coast are faced with an early and extra-long allergy season, according to AccuWeather.
And this isn't just something to shrug off. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that a whopping 50 million Americans suffer from nasal allergies. This time of year has gotten so intense that people are actually calling the spring allergy season the "pollen vortex."
— AccuWeather (@breakingweather) March 3, 2017
"The reason this allergy season is predicted to be exceptionally rough and exceptionally long is because warmer weather started so much earlier in the year," says Alyson Pidich, M.D., an internal medicine doctor for New York Medicine Doctors. Even just having a few warm days in February and March cues trees (the first float on the allergy parade) to start pollen production, she says. Even if the weather quick-changes back to freezing, the pollen is already circulating through in the air, so your allergies are already making you miserable.
FYI, trees are the main culprit for springtime allergies, while grass strikes from May to July, and ragweed wreaks havoc in August and September, says Pidich.
If you're thinking, "I don't get allergies, so this doesn't matter to me," then listen up: "You can develop a new allergy or grow out of an old allergy at any point in your life," says Pidich. So this might just be the year that pollen makes you its new victim. Keep an eye out for the various symptom of outdoor allergies: runny nose, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, rashes and all-over itching, headaches, coughing, wheezing, sinus pressure and congestion, post-nasal drip, and even "allergic shiners" (dark circles). (Here's how to decode whether it's a cold, the flu, or allergies.)
To deal, you can try these natural allergy prevention tips and make sure you have filters in your vacuum and air conditioner to help filter out the pollen, says Pidich. If you're an outdoor workout fiend, schedule your run, bike, or boot camp for the evening, because pollen counts are highest in the early a.m. (And learn about these other crucial tips for conquering runs during spring allergy season.) You can also track the pollen index so you know which days will be particularly itch-inducing; find your local levels in most weather apps like The Weather Channel or Weather Underground, or head to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology website. One general rule of thumb: Sunny, windy days are the worst for pollen, says Pidich. Although you may have heard that rain "washes" the pollen out of the air, it can actually "smash the pollen into smaller pieces which can then be inhaled more easily," says Pidich. If your symptoms are making you incredibly uncomfortable, it's time to head to your doc to get an allergy test or consider going on an allergy medication, she says.
And if you're really suffering? Consider it an excuse to skip town! "There are really low pollen levels at the ocean," says Pidich. And since you're there for health reasons, you can totally use your sick days—we won't tell.