Just when we’re finally past the polar vortex, we’re (itchy) eye-to-eye with the pollen vortex, a perfect storm of allergens caused by trees lying dormant for longer than usual, then spewing their pollen at the same time as grass pollen explodes.
Looking for relief? These are the 5 most useful things we learned at a talk with David Mazza, MD, a New York-based allergist and immunologist.
Steroid nasal sprays trump antihistamines.
Steroid sprays such as Flonase and Nasacort reduce inflammation, making it harder for allergens to reach the receptors in your nasal tissue that trigger reactions. Use a spray daily (Nasacort is now available over-the-counter; Flonase is Rx-only), and save the antihistamine for days when you’re really miserable. (Take note: Decongestant sprays, like Afrin, should not be used daily, Dr. Mazza says, because they can cause rebound congestion.) You can check pollen counts in your area and sign up for email alerts so you know when to double-down on meds.
Cat dander floats.
That’s why even when Fluffy is locked in an upstairs bedroom, you can walk in the front door and immediately start sneezing/wheezing/tearing up.
Allergy seasons are getting worse.
It’s not your imagination: you can blame climate change. Milder fall temps lead to a longer ragweed season. In spring, pollen and grass seasons overlap more, a double whammy if you’re sensitive to both substances.
Your symptoms may change over time.
Our bodies’ reaction to seasonal offenders can seem totally bonkers. “I had a patient come to me with head-to-toe hives,” Dr. Mazza says, and she didn’t realize it was related to her pollen allergies, because she’d never had skin symptoms before.
PMS can exacerbate allergies.
Higher levels of hormones like estrogen are to blame, which is why many of us ladies feel more miserable in the week or so leading up to our periods—and while pregnant. “During pregnancy, one third of women have their allergies worsen,” says Dr. Massa. The bright spot? Allergies often ease up with menopause.
Lisa Lombardi is the Executive Editor of Health magazine.