With the start of spring, you may notice an increase in allergies – also known as hay fever. While allergy season typically doesn’t begin until April, the increase in allergies can begin as early as the month of March depending on weather – which can also play a role in things like grasses, trees and pollens coming out earlier than usual. With Vancouver and many other parts of British Columbia already seeing above-average temperatures for the month of March, the pollen count for things like cedar, juniper and alder is considered high – and the higher the pollen count, the more likely it is that those with allergies will suffer, which is why it’s so important to be air aware.

Pollen travels through the air, and when those tiny grains get into the nose of someone who is allergic, they result in an allergic response which can include everything from sneezing to nasal congestion or runny nose, coughing, wheezing, itchy, red and watery eyes, and even fatigue – and while most people associate springtime allergies with being outdoors, you can also be just as affected when indoors, too. For example, pollen can get inside of your home simply by having your doors and windows open, causing it to stick to things like your clothing and drapes, also resulting in your body going through an allergic response. Hay fever can be a nuisance, to say the least. The good news is that there are certain precautions you can take in effort to avoid or at least reduce the symptoms of allergies.

1. Stay indoors. While it might not seem ideal and isn’t necessarily something that everyone with allergies needs to do, it is something that those with severe allergies should consider – particularly on days where the pollen count is high, and on days that are dry or windy. The best time to spend outdoors is after a rainfall, as rain helps to clear away pollen from the air, and you may find that your allergies are not as triggered. Outdoor chores such as gardening and lawn mowing should also be avoided on days where pollen counts are high – and, if at all possible, you should consider hiring a gardener or asking a friend or family member for a bit of extra help. Laundry is also something that should be done on a regular basis, but be sure to not hang your clothes outside to dry, as pollen can even tick to clothing.

2. Keep indoor air clean. It’s important that indoor air is kept as clean as possible. When spending time inside, you should keep your windows and doors shut to avoid pollen from entering your home. On days that are particularly warm, use air conditioning if you have it (including in your car), as this can help filter out any irritant air particles, and also use a dehumidifier to keep the indoor air dry. You should also have your heating system checked for its regular maintenance, and ensure you are using high-efficiency filters. Carpets should also be vacuumed regularly.

3. Pay attention to weather forecasts. As mentioned, when the pollen count is high, your allergies will also be more apparent. While the weather itself can oftentimes be unpredictable, the warmer the weather the higher the pollen count typically is. To find out exactly what the pollen count is in your area, you should pay attention to your local weather forecast either by watching the news or listening to the radio. Alternatively, you can also find updated pollen counts online via The Weather Network.

Now that you know some tips to help avoid allergies, you also need to know what to do to combat allergies if you happen to be someone who is susceptible or severely affected by them. If allergies are something that seem new to you or if you happen to be having more difficulty with them than normal, then the first thing you need to do is see your family physician. While he or she may be able to make a diagnosis simply based on your symptoms, they will also likely refer you to an allergist. An allergist will be able to perform a skin test to determine exactly what you’re allergic to, and in some cases may even refer you for blood testing for further accuracy.

As for reducing the symptoms of allergies, there are many things to try. Most commonly, doctors will initially suggest trying over-the-counter antihistamines to help relieve your symptoms, which come in a variety of forms – including pill or liquid, drowsy or non-drowsy. If using an over-the-counter decongestant spray, it is important to note that these particular medications are not usually recommended for long-term use and should be used for no more than 3 to 5 days (depending on the instructions.) Prolonged use of these medications can actually lead to an increase of symptoms and a condition known as rebound congestion. For individuals with more severe allergies or if you have tried the aforementioned medications to no avail, it is not uncommon for doctors to then recommend prescription-strength medications, such as steroid nasal sprays as well as eye drops.