Your nose itches, your eyes get watery, then the sneezing starts — before you know it, you’ve emptied an entire tissue box. Yep, it’s pollen season already.
About 60 million people in the United States suffer from seasonal allergies each year. “Allergic rhinitis” or hay fever is the result of your immune system releasing the chemical histamine to remove foreign invaders. At times, your body’s defensive response may work a little too well. Intended to protect you, the flow of mucus and tears may leave you squinting through red eyes and sneezing into your elbow all day.
You may not be able to clear the pollen from the air you breathe, but you can clear up any confusion you have about allergies. Here are some helpful facts to know as spring plants begin to bloom.
Can you live a pollen-free life?
Unfortunately, no. Unless you live somewhere with no plants or trees, pollen is just a fact of life. Some areas of the country are worse than others. The southeast region of the U.S. has a number of states with the highest pollen count. Scranton, Pennsylvania was named the top 2021 Allergy Capital while cities in the states of Virginia, Kansas, Texas, Connecticut and Massachusetts ranked closely behind.
What exactly is the “pollen count”?
Pollen count is simply the amount of pollen in the air at a given time. Measured in grams of pollen per cubic meter, the level of each type of pollen (tree, ragweed, mold, grass, dust and dander) is combined to reach a total number. A high count is considered 9.7 to 12.0.
To check your local pollen count, view the National Allergy Map at Pollen.com. This map provides up-to-date pollen data from all 50 states and major metropolitan areas. The Allergy Alert app from Pollen.com is another helpful tool.
What should you do when the pollen count is high?
If you’re an allergy sufferer, your best defense is knowledge and preparation. By staying informed and planning ahead, you can reduce the severity of your allergy symptoms — and avoid those mountains of used tissues. Here’s some things to consider:
Keep an eye on your local weather. Dry, windy, sunny days drive high pollen counts. Rain, moisture and cloudy conditions tend to keep pollen numbers down.
Get tested. Learn what specific plant or tree pollen causes your worst reactions and when they bloom.
Stay indoors and filter the air. If you have a whole house ventilation system, clean or change the filter. If not, use air filtration/air conditioning systems in commonly used rooms and keep the windows closed.
Plan travel and outdoor activities accordingly. Visit places with less vegetation, like beaches, mountain tops or arid desert. Pollen counts tend to be highest in the morning, from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., so it may be wise to stay indoors during this time and save dog walking, gardening or your daily jog for later in the day.
If you have to be outside, suit up. Take medication in advance. It can also help to apply a thin layer of Vaseline around the edge of your nostrils. And that face mask you’ve been wearing for the past year? It can actually help prevent pollen from entering your body!
You can continue most activities in spite of high pollen counts if your reaction isn’t severe.
However, if you begin to have any difficulty breathing, this is an emergency. Call 911 or go to the ER immediately.
Not sure it's allergies? Talk to a doctor.
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