Pollen grains from trees, grasses and weeds float through the air in springtime – but on their way to fertilize plants and tree flowers, these particles often end up in our noses, eyes, ears and mouths. The result can be sneezing spells, coughing, red and watery eyes, nasal congestion and an itchy throat – yep, it’s pollen allergy. Here’s what you can do to prevent symptoms.

What can people with pollen allergies do to get through spring?

Managing pollen allergies is a multi-step process, and patients need to be actively involved in their care. Along with visiting your primary care doctor or allergist and taking medication as prescribed, it’s important to find ways to reduce your exposure to pollen.

Check pollen counts daily and limit your time outside when pollen counts are high. At home, keep your windows closed to keep pollen out. Change your clothes and remove shoes so you don’t bring allergens inside. Bathe before going to bed and wash or brush your hair so pollen doesn’t collect on pillows.

Everyone wants to go outside in the spring, but are there any places in particular that are best to avoid?

First identify which pollen causes your allergies through allergy testing. If it’s tree pollen, then you should avoid wooded areas, especially in the early spring when tree pollens are most prevalent. If it’s grass pollen, avoid lawns or fields, especially in the late spring when grass pollen is at its height.

Are there certain times of the day that tend to be worse for allergies?

Airborne pollen tends to be highest early in the day, just after the dew dries, and on into early afternoon. High pollen levels can sometimes last until late afternoon. They can be most potent when conditions are warm, dry and breezy.

The pollen count is never zero, so time your outdoor activities to when allergens are at their lowest. If you must be outdoors during high pollen times, avoid intense physical activity that causes rapid breathing; the faster you breathe, the more allergens you inhale. Exercise indoors, if possible.

What are some other practical remedies to prevent pollen allergies?

Some people with severe pollen allergies may choose to wear a facemask designed to filter pollen and keep it from reaching nasal passages. This is not always practical, however. If eye allergies are a problem, consider wearing sunglasses. 3

One remedy to consider is allergy immunotherapy, a treatment that can help build your tolerance to allergens. It works by introducing gradually increasing amounts of pollen into the immune system until your body is able to tolerate it. For many, tolerance continues after immunotherapy ends.

Do allergy seasons really vary in intensity from year to year?

Many doctors and scientists say allergy seasons are intensifying, starting earlier and lasting longer. Climate change is a factor. It’s fueled in part by rising temperatures and mild winters, allowing pollen-producing trees and grass to bloom earlier. The extended growing seasons leads to increased levels of airborne allergens.

In addition, snowmelt in late winter or early spring can increase moisture that allows trees to produce more pollen when they bloom.