Tips for reducing exposure to allergens including pollen & mold
Hay fever or "seasonal allergic rhinitis" to give it it's technical name, is extremely common in industrialized countries. Most estimates suggest that between 10-20% of the population suffer from hayfever to some degree and this figure is even higher for young people between the ages of 11 and 21.
It is also known from multiple research studies over the years that patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and other related conditions have a much higher incidence of allergies, including hay fever, than otherwise healthy individuals, adding to the misery of these diseases. Effective treatment for hay fever therefore gains added importance.
The specific allergen that triggers hay fever varies between countries, and even between regions, in very large countries such as the USA. As a result, the season that hay fever rears its head also varies. In the UK, hay fever is mainly caused by grass pollen between the months of May and July, which with young people most affected, can have a serious impact on exam performance unless treated and symptoms kept under control. In the US, although tree and grass pollens cause problems earlier in the year, ragweed in the summer and into autumn is a major cause of seasonal allergies. Examples of the predominant causes of hay fever in other countries include birch tree pollen in Scandanavian countries, cedar pollen in Japan and olive trees in Spain. Finally, mold is one allergen which is common across international borders, flourishing whenever and whever conditions are right (learn more).
The most common and troubling symptoms of hay fever include:
- Runny nose
- Blocked nose
- Itchy nasal passages
- Itchy eyes
- Watery eyes
- Swelling of the whites of the eyes
- Gritty feeling in the eyes
- Tightness and wheezing (could actually be symptoms of asthma and should be treated as such)
- Itchy throat
- Feeling flu-like or "ill all over"
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How to reduce your exposure to pollen
Monitor the pollen count - The pollen count is often broadcast along with the weather report, especially in peak seasons. When the count is high you should do your best to avoid areas of high pollen concentration such as fields and lawned gardens (if allergic to grass pollen), especially with freshly mowed grass as this throws the pollen up into the air. If you are allergic to tree pollen of whatever kind, then obviously avoiding walks in forests and wooded areas is best avoided on high pollen days.
Other than the weather forecast, there are a number of very good online resources with current pollen counts and forecasts. These include:
BBC Weather Centre - UK pollen forecast
National Pollen Research Unit - UK
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Pollen & Mould Counts
Pollen.com - Local pollen reports and forecasts for the USA & Canada
Avoid going outdoors at certain times - Pollen is more likely to be a problem at certain times of day, typically earling morning and evening. These are the times when the pollen count is at its highest.
Avoid gardening and yard work - It is best to avoid cutting the lawn, clearing leaves etc if you suffer from hay fever. If you must do these chores yourself then wearing a filter mask is a good idea, as is following the rest of the recommendations here.
Close windows and doors - This simple measure can reduce your pollen exposure by a large amount. This applies both to windows at home or work and car windows whilst driving. Make sure you set your car ventilation system to recirculate air rather than bring it in from the outside.
Don't hang clothes out to dry - Pollen will collect on them and be sure to trigger symptoms when you wear them. For the same reason you should not wear the same clothes more than once without washing them during the hay fever season.
Take a shower - Showering and washing your hair after spending time outside is a good idea to remove any pollen grains you may have picked up. Especially important that you take a shower or bath before going to bed so you don't rub pollen off onto your bed linen.
Wash pets regurlarly - Pets that live in the house may be an unexpected source of pollen exposure. Cats and dogs can pick up a lot of pollen in their fur...especially if they like to roll around in the grass and leaves!
Use an air filter in the home - An air purifier, particularly one that uses a HEPA filter, can help to reduce pollen levels in the home. If you can live with the noise (new models are getting quieter) then it's a good idea to have one running in the bedroom while you sleep.
Avoid unnecessary extra irritants - These include cigarette smoke and chemical fumes such as household cleaners and vehicle exhaust. These things can further irritate the mucous membranes and exacerbate symptoms.
Take a holiday/vacation during hayfever season - If you have the financial means and it is practical then a good way to avoid the discomfort of hay fever is to take a holiday/vacation during peak pollen season. A week or two in a region or country where the pollen levels to which you are allergic are low, can bring welcome relief.
Use an allergy mask - Allergy masks are a great way to avoid exposure to pollens if you would rather not use anti-allergy drugs, natural allergy remedies, or if your hay fever is very severe. Although they may make you feel a little self-concious and be a little uncomfortable at first, they are very effective at blocking pollen. Obviously a mask will only prevent nasal symptoms so wearing goggles or wrap-around sunglasses to protect the eyes may be a good idea as well.
Obviously if these measures don't bring you as much relief as you would like then it is worth looking at other things as well. There are many effective allergy medications and natural allergy treatments for hay fever and other allergies on the market.
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