Spring is in the air — and with it is a whole lot of pollen, especially in Durham, North Carolina. Photographer Jeremy Gilchrist is making headlines with his images of "pollmageddon," showcasing the city of Durham covered in a cloud of green.
Could the mild winter and early spring be to blame? The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) recently released its annual "Spring Allergy Capitals" report, naming the top 10 places allergy sufferers should avoid. And while it might be experiencing a "pollenpocalypse," Durham is ranked 58 on the list.
Even if you're not located in one of the high pollen areas listed, you could still be experiencing seasonal allergy symptoms. One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to allergies is waiting until they’re already suffering with itchy eyes, sniffles and sneezing.
If the pollen count is high in your area, take allergy medication even if you haven’t experienced any symptoms yet, allergists advise. You can check the pollen count in your area at the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology's website.
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, shared some 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 said.
2. Throwing your windows wide open to allow the fresh air in.
“This can bring the pollen inside your house,” Fajt said.
Use an air conditioner. “A lot of them filter out pollen,” Fajt explained.
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 noted.
4. Mowing your lawn if you’re allergic to grass.
"And if someone else is cutting their lawn don’t go outside," said 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.
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 said. “You should at least wash your hands before rubbing your eyes,” she advised. “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 advised.
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 said. “You can get tingling, itching and even swelling of the lips and the roof of the mouth."
Common trigger foods include:
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?’”said 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, said Fajt.
9. Decongestant nasal sprays
“Those sprays are OK for one or two days, and they are helpful because they give instant relief,” Fajt said. “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," said 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.’”