Health & Wellness

Spring allergy season is here: 9 common mistakes that can make symptoms worse

A mild winter and early spring means there may be a big price to pay if you have seasonal allergies. Will we have another pollen tsunami? It may feel like it — if you're in Jackson, Mississippi, which has the highest pollen score in the country right now.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), released its annual "Spring Allergy Capitals" report Wednesday, naming the top 100 cities with higher than average pollen problems.

“Every year we say this may be the worst pollen season,” says Dr. Merritt Fajt, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary allergy and critical care medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “But this year we are seeing an increase in pollen a month sooner than usual in many areas of the U.S. More and more people are having year round allergy symptoms, who used to have seasonable ones.”

Related: 6 ways to avoid an allergy attack

AFP - Getty Images
Cherry blossoms begin to bloom at the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC, March 22. Beautiful, yes. But if you have seasonal allergies, your nose may be itching now.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is waiting till they’re already suffering with itchy eyes and are sniffling and sneezing without stop. So if the pollen count is high, take allergy medication even if you haven’t experienced any symptoms yet, allergists advise.

“If you wait till you feel terrible, then the medications won’t be as effective, because your body is already overwhelmed,” Fajt says.

Other common mistakes that can make allergies feel worse:

1. Not avoiding your allergy triggers.

If you're suffering, you should be tested. Once you know what you’re allergic to, you can avoid exposure. “If you know you are allergic to grass pollen, then we highly recommend you stay indoors during peak times,” Fajt says.

2. Throwing your windows wide open to allow the fresh air in.

“This can bring the pollen inside your house,” Fajt says.

Use an air conditioner. “A lot of them filter out pollen,” Fajt explains.

3. Showering in the morning.

“It’s better to shower at night before you go to bed so you can avoid bringing pollen into bed with you,” Fajt says.

4. Mowing your lawn if you’re allergic to grass.

"And if someone else is cutting their lawn don’t go outside, says Fajt.

A sublingual tablet is available for grass allergies. It contains low levels of grass pollen and melts under your tongue. You have to take it every day and it’s just for grass, whereas shots can cover a wide variety of allergens.

Related: FDA approves under-the-tongue allergy pill

5. Rubbing your itchy eyes after you’ve been outside.

There’s a good chance you could have pollen on your hands and rubbing your eyes makes your allergies worse, Fajt says. “You should at least wash your hands before rubbing your eyes,” she advises. “And you might try wearing sunglasses since this is a decent way of keeping pollen out of your eyes.”

6. Driving with the windows down

“You want to close the windows and push the recycled air button,” she advises.

There are also some unexpected factors that could be making your allergy symptoms worse.

7. Proteins found in certain fruits and vegetables

The syndrome is called pollen food allergy syndrome (PFAS). It's also known as oral allergy syndrome.

The immune reaction fools your body into thinking it’s been exposed to an allergen. "You might eat some fresh apples and your body will perceive it as if you were eating ragweed,” Fajt says. “You can get tingling, itching and even swelling of the lips and the roof of the mouth."

Common trigger foods include:

  • apples
  • almonds
  • carrots
  • cherries
  • peaches
  • plums
  • nectarines
  • hazelnuts

Because it's not commonly known, patients often won't bring it up with a doctor.

“So I’ll just ask them, ‘when you eat certain fruits or vegetables, does your mouth feel funny,’”says Fajt.

If you don't want to avoid trigger foods until the pollen season clears, eat them cooked or without the skins.

8. Red wine

Red wines have sulfites in them — as does dried fruit. These compounds can cause nasal symptoms, says Fajt.

9. Decongestant nasal sprays

“Those sprays are OK for one or two days, and they are helpful because they give instant relief,” Fajt says. “When they’re used for more than a few days in a row they can cause nasal congestion.”

There’s even a name for this kind of congestion: rhinitis medicamentosa.

Ultimately, if you have allergy symptoms, “you shouldn’t suffer in silence," says Fajt.

"A lot of people think it’s normal not to be able to breathe through their noses. Then they try a medication and tell me things like ‘I never knew things smelled this nice or that I could sleep through the night.’”

For a complete list of cities with high pollen counts, go to AllergyCapitals.

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