Avoiding flowers and trees will only get you so far during allergy season. Watch out for these surprising causes of allergy flare-ups.
Stay away from pollen. Pop antihistamines. You know the drill. But if you’re one of the approximately 20% of people who suffer from hay fever (also known as allergic rhinitis) in all of its stuffy, sneezing infamy, fending off seasonal allergies might not be so straightforward. To breathe easy this season, you’ll also need to fight these 11 unexpected allergy triggers.
The farmer’s market can strengthen your immune system, but it could also send that system into a frenzy. Why? When tree, grass, and weed pollen counts are high, your immune system is primed to attack anything that resembles your allergens even slightly, says Anju Peters, MD, associate professor of medicine in allergy and immunology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Case in point: fruit pollen. In those who suffer from pollen-food allergy syndrome, filling your mouth and stomach with fruit pollen can worsen allergies.
Fight it: “Symptoms of pollen-food allergy syndrome typically occur when you eat fruit—including its peel—in its raw form, Dr. Peters says. “So by peeling or cooking fruit, you can lessen or completely avoid any reaction.”
People with hay fever, asthma, chronic bronchitis, and COPD are far more likely to experience sneezing, a runny nose, and lower-airway symptoms after imbibing, per Swedish research. Alcohol dilates the nose’s blood vessels and may also spur an immune response. Wine might be a bigger culprit than other booze, Dr. Peters says.
Fight it: Drink responsibly. That means limiting your consumption of alcohol, especially wine, and never mixing alcohol and allergy meds, she says.
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Stress won’t cause allergies, but it can worsen your symptoms. Research from The Ohio State University Medical Center shows that just a small amount of stress increases the body’s levels of allergy-triggering proteins as well as its allergic symptoms. Plus, regularly high levels of the stress hormone cortisol can compromise your immune system, wear you down, and make it difficult for your body to recuperate from the season’s onslaught of allergens, Dr. Peters says.
Fight it: Use your allergies as another excuse to enjoy some “me” time. Take care of yourself and do whatever you’ve got to do to de-stress: meditate, practice yoga, soak in the tub.
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The perfect ‘do comes at a cost. “Hair gels and pastes cause the hair to become a pollen magnet,” says Clifford Bassett, MD, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York and associate professor of clinical medicine at New York University.
Fight it: Use as few hair products as your hairstyle will allow, Dr. Bassett advises. If you just can’t get by without your full arsenal of gels, sprays, and serums, make sure to wash your hair every day to remove the tag-along allergens from your locks.
April showers bring May flowers…and “thunderstorm asthma” attacks. While gentle drizzles can decrease pollen counts, thunderstorms actually stir up pollen, which can easily rupture and spread through the air as tiny particles, according to research in Allergy. In fact, thunderstorms are linked with a greater incidence of asthma-related hospitalizations, Dr. Bassett says.
Fight it: This one’s pretty easy: Stay inside during and immediately following rough weather, and keep your windows shut.
April showers bring may flowers—and a whole lot of humidity, something dust mites love. Dust mites—tiny bugs that live within house dust year-round—can cause sneezing, itchy nose, runny eyes, and other symptoms similar to seasonal allergies. So allowing dust mites to reproduce in your home will compound any seasonal allergy symptoms you’re already experiencing.
Fight it: Use a dehumidifier to keep humidity levels between 40 and 45% to prevent dust mites from reproducing. And if possible, keep the thermostat set below 68.
Ridding your home of mold is about more than good hygiene. Overwatering your houseplants can cause mold and mildew to grow in their soil, which can then spur indoor allergies and even worsen outdoor ones, Dr. Bassett says.
Fight it: If you typically water your plants by trial and error, search online to find out how much water each one really needs. You might also benefit from adding a couple of air cleaning plant varieties to your décor. Research from Pennsylvania State University shows that the snake plant, spider plant, and golden pothos can all help improve indoor air quality.
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Indoor air could be worse for your allergies than outdoor air. After all, inside, you not only have your indoor allergens to contend with, but also the outdoor allergens that are likely making their way into your home, says James Sublett, MD, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Running your ceiling fans just swirls all of those allergens around.
Fight it: Run the A/C to cool off. If you just can’t get by without running your ceiling fans, make sure your home—and ceiling fan blades—are thoroughly cleaned before you flip the switch.
If your nose is particularly stuffed each morning, you should consider bathing at night before bed instead. Going to bed swaddled in the pollen and mold that your clothing, skin, and hair picked up throughout the day may be the problem, Dr. Bassett says.
Fight it: If you can’t function in the morning until you’ve had your shower, that’s OK. Just make sure you at least wash your face at night, giving your eye area some special attention. Washing your hair at night would also be ideal.
Isn’t spring cleaning supposed to scrub your house of dirt? “It can also dramatically increase exposure to allergens found in normally settled ‘house dust,’ which contains dust mites, cockroach and mouse allergens, furry pet allergens, and mold spores,” Sublett says.
Fight it: Try to get someone else (think: your husband, kids, or house cleaner) to deep clean your home when you’re not there. If that doesn’t work, a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter is a great investment.
Just because you aren’t allergic to your pet doesn’t he they won’t make you sneeze and sniffle. After being outside, your dog can bring pollen, mold, and other allergens into your home.
Fight it: Give your pup regular baths, and avoid allowing him hang out on your bed.