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These 8 common allergy season mistakes may be making your symptoms worse

Pollen got you down? This year's allergy season is more severe and lasting longer than others. Allergists share top tips for managing symptoms.

If you feel like this spring is the worst allergy season in a long time, you aren't alone — or imagining it. Doctors around the country are reporting seeing more severe seasonal allergies and for much longer this year compared to previous seasons.

“All over the country pollen levels were higher much earlier this year,” Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist at NYU Langone Health, tells For many, that pollen triggers sneezing, congestion, coughing, runny nose and itching — also known as seasonal allergy symptoms.

Pollen counts are 20% higher now than they were in 1991, NBC News Medical Contributor Dr. Natalie Azar told TODAY in a segment aired Friday, May 19.

The United States has three pollen seasons at different times of the year — spring is tree pollen season, summer is grass pollen season, and fall is ragweed pollen season, per the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “Right now, it’s both tree and grass pollen,” says Parikh.

In addition to being more severe, this year's allergy season is also longer, previously reported.

"Typically we see people who are allergic to tree pollen start having symptoms mid-March. ... This year we started seeing patients much earlier," Dr. Shradha Agarwal, an allergist-immunologist at Mount Sinai, tells

“In my practice, we were seeing people in February, a full month in advance,” says Parikh.

Why is this year's allergy season so bad?

One reason is that the U.S. had a very mild winter with more precipitation, but climate change is also to blame, the experts say.

“The warmer planet and higher carbon dioxide levels means that you have optimal environments for plant growth and plants produce pollen,” Dr. Neeta Ogden, an allergist and spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

During the winter, freezing temperatures cause plants to go into a state of dormancy, says Ogden. The mild winter combined with higher temperatures due to climate change allowed the ground to thaw sooner, the experts note, so plants started blooming and releasing pollen earlier than normal.

“We started allergy season about 20 days earlier, (and we are) ending about 10 days later ... that adds a month to our suffering,” Azar said.

Another possible factor is that less people are wearing masks indoors and outdoors this year, says Agarwal. “Masks were really protecting people from pollen exposure,” she adds.

Although this year's allergy season is tough, there are still ways to alleviate symptoms. We asked allergists to share their top tips for getting through the rest of allergy season.

Don’t ignore or wait to treat symptoms

It’s not too late to try to manage your allergy symptoms. “A big thing with treating allergies at any level is not to wait because they can spiral out of control,” says Ogden.

Although summer is around the corner, late-season allergies may persist for several more weeks. “We’ll probably see the grass pollen season lasting longer, into later June or summer,” says Ogden.

People can develop seasonal allergies at any point in time, Azar noted, and some may mistake new symptoms for a cold.

Colds are infections caused by viruses or bacteria, says Agarwal, whereas allergies are the immune system overreacting to substances like pollen. They can cause similar symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, congestion, and a cough.

However, allergies cause more itching, Agarwal notes, and the same symptoms often last for weeks. Colds cause fevers and aches, she adds, and symptoms typically improve over the course of one week.

Don't take the wrong allergy medication

Drugstore aisles can be overwhelming. “(If) you’re experimenting with medications that have mixed ingredients, or you just don’t know how it works, (you) can make things worse,” says Ogden.

The experts recommend starting with 24-hour second-generation antihistamines as a first-line treatment. These include cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin) or fexofenadine (Allegra). Compared to first-generation antihistamines like diphenhydramine, these have fewer side effects and last longer, says Agarwal.

“You can start antihistamines anytime. Sooner is better, but they will still be efficacious now,” says Parikh.

Antihistamines block the action of histamines, which the body releases in response to allergens (like pollen), resulting in a range of allergic reaction symptoms, per the Cleveland Clinic.

The experts also recommend using over-the-counter nasal steroid sprays, which help reduce swelling and congestion in the nose. These are sold under brand names like Flonase or Nasacort. Antihistamine eye drops can help relieve ocular symptoms, the experts add.

If none of these are working at all, it may be time to see a doctor, says Ogden.

Don't forget to take allergy medication daily

“A big mistake I see people making is not taking antihistamines or nasal steroid sprays or allergy eye drops daily during allergy season," says Parikh.

These allergy medications provide the most benefit when taken consistently, previously reported, versus as-needed. "It’s much easier to control symptoms proactively than retroactively,” Parikh adds.

Another mistake Ogden sees often is people skipping or stopping medication the moment they feel better, too soon in the season.

“If you’re an allergy sufferer, you really need that layer of protection before you start your day, even if you’re not feeling (as bad),” says Ogden, adding that people should continue taking medication through the end of allergy season or while pollen levels are high.

You may also want to consider taking your antihistamine twice a day, depending on the severity of your symptoms, Azar said in a segment aired May 23. Just check with your doctor before doing so, as taking more of the medication may cause drug interactions.

You should also consult a doctor before giving these medications to your children or if you're taking them while pregnant.

Don't overuse nasal decongestant sprays

Nasal decongestants provide temporary relief for stuffy or blocked noses by reducing fluid and swelling in the nasal passages, per the Cleveland Clinic. Some medications combine an antihistamine and a decongestant (these end in “-D” such as Claritin-D), says Parikh.

The real concern is with OTC decongestant nasal sprays, which may contain oxymetazoline, phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine. Parikh recommends avoiding them entirely. “These can actually make your allergies worse over time because they have a rebound effect where the congestion comes back worse,” she adds.

Instead, opt for over-the-counter nasal steroid sprays, like Flonase or Nasacort, Azar said. You can also consult your doctor about a prescription antihistamine spray.

Don't use tap water with nasal irrigation

Nasal irrigation, when you rinse your sinuses to try to reduce congestion and clogging, can be used at home to treat allergies. To do so, you can use a neti pot or a rinse bottle and a sodium chloride mix, according to Cleveland Clinic.

You pour the solution into one nostril and it comes out the other. But it's important to use the right kind of water, Azar stressed. She recommended getting a distilled or sterile water from the drug store or boiling tap water for three to five minutes and letting it cool.

Saline mist sprays can also keep the sinuses moist, but they're less effective at flushing out the mucus buildup that cases congestion, Azar said.

Don't forget your eyes

Seasonal allergies can affect the eyes, causing redness, itchiness, pain, burning, swelling or discharge. It’s key for allergy sufferers to protect their eyes from pollen when they go outside, the experts note, especially if they wear contact lenses.

“I strongly emphasize wearing sunglasses every time you go outside because all that pollen that’s flying around gets stuck on the lens and is a constant source of aggravation for the eye,” says Agarwal.

People should use antihistamine eyedrops before going outside, Agarwal notes, and about 30 minutes before putting in contact lenses. “For some patients who are very sensitive, a lot of them are not able to wear their contacts in the season,” she adds.

Don't leave doors and windows open

While it's tempting to let the spring breeze flow inside, allergy-sufferers need to be careful, the experts warn.

"Tree pollen is a fine powdery substance, so it's really easy for the wind to carry it for miles," says Agarwal. Keeping doors and windows shut can help keep pollen out of the home, so it doesn't stick to surfaces or fabrics and trigger symptoms indoors.

If your home is getting hot, the experts recommend cranking up the air conditioner instead of opening windows, especially if the pollen count is high. "HEPA air filters can also help reduce the amount of allergens that circulate through the home," says Agarwal.

Don't let pollen get into your bed

In addition to keeping bedroom windows shut during allergy season, Agarwal recommends always changing into clean clothes, showering, and washing your hair before getting into bed if you've been outside that day.

It’s also important to keep sheets, pillowcases, and duvet covers as free of pollen as possible. Parikh recommends washing bed linens once a week in hot water to help remove pollen and other allergens.

Pets that spend time outside should probably stay out of the bed and bedroom during allergy season as well, says Ogden. Even if your cat or dog doesn't look dirty, their coat can be covered in pollen. "Let’s face it, we aren't all rinsing off our dogs at night," says Ogden.

"Little things to decrease the pollen load you’re being exposed to are always really helpful ... even if it’s annoying and it’s more work," says Ogden.

Don't forget to check the pollen count before going outdoors

The experts recommend tracking pollen counts during allergy season through resources like the National Allergy Bureauthe Allergy & Asthma Network or various weather apps.

Planning outdoor activities around pollen counts can really help limit pollen exposure and reduce symptoms. “Avoid going outdoors during peak pollen times ... usually the pollen count is highest in the early morning, at dusk, and on warm breezy days,” says Agarwal.

If you have to spend time outside when the pollen count is high, Agarwal recommends taking extra steps like wearing a mask, sunglasses, and a hat to keep pollen out of the hair.

"I don’t think people should live in a bubble but be responsible," says Ogden.