Spring is most certainly in the air, but unfortunately for the 81 million U.S. adults who suffer from seasonal allergies, all the sneezing and nose-blowing can take the attention away from the sunshine and blooming flowers.
Interestingly, ever-annoying allergies are becoming more widespread, according to research published in the World Allergy Organization Journal. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is the fact that climate change is contributing to higher-than-normal levels of pollen and longer pollen seasons (almost two full weeks longer). The second may be a continued side effect of pandemic mask-wearing: “People have been wearing face masks for multiple years, which has protected them against pollen and other allergens in the air,” says naturopathic doctor and clinical nutritionist David Friedman, N.D., D.C. “Now that the CDC has relaxed mask guidelines, people are suffering from allergies at an alarming rate.”
While there’s not a whole lot you can do this very second to address those allergy antagonizers, you do have more influence than you may think over your symptoms this season. In fact, many everyday habits can actually exacerbate allergies. Watch out for these overlooked ways in which you could be making your seasonal allergies worse—and what to do to get some relief.
1. Not regularly cleaning your home
Most of us can agree that cleaning is not something we enjoy doing, which is probably why we so often push it off—or neglect it completely. But cleaning is important for more than just aesthetic purposes. Cleaning, especially dusting and vacuuming, can help reduce the irritants in your home that exacerbate allergies.
In addition to dusting and vacuuming regularly (if you have visible build-up, you’ve waited too long), another way to improve the air quality in your home is to use an air filter. “Using a HEPA filter in your bedroom while you sleep can be a great way to give your immune system a break and help you feel better when you wake up in the morning,” says naturopath Kiera Lane, N.M.D., MSAc, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., director of Arizona Natural Medicine.
2. Not showering daily
Another thing to regularly clean during allergy season: yourself! In fact, showering every day during allergy season can help reduce your symptoms by washing away environmental allergens that could be hanging on your skin, notes Sima Patel, D.O., allergist and immunologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “The pollen that accumulates on your body, hair, and clothes may end up in your bed, which could cause symptoms and make it difficult to sleep,” she explains. The ideal move here: Hop in the shower every night before crawling into bed to ensure you’re not cuddling up with allergens all night.
3. Skimping On Sleep
Speaking of sleep, making sure to get the recommended seven to nine hours per night can help minimize your allergy symptoms, according to Lane. Research, including one study published in Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology, found an increase of house dust mite allergic rhinitis in both adults and children who didn’t consistently get adequate sleep. “Sleep is an important habit for fostering a healthy, functioning immune system,” says Lane.
Lane recommends trying to stick to the same bedtime and wake-up time every day (even on weekends) to help encourage consistent sleep and ensure you’re getting enough. Putting all the screens away (yes, even your phone) 30 minutes before bed will also minimize the disruption blue light causes.
4. Eating a lot of highly-processed, sugary foods
Consuming a highly-processed diet impacts health in a number of ways—and making allergy symptoms worse is one of them. “Highly processed foods, especially sugar, can suppress the immune system and cause system inflammation in the body,” says Lane.
If you have allergies, Lane recommends doing your best to eat a diet rich in whole foods, including lean proteins, healthy fats, and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. “Eating home-cooked foods rather than buying meals pre-made from the store or eating out at restaurants ensures you’re eating high-quality foods that reduce inflammation and help support allergy prevention,” she adds.
5. Leaving windows open
The warm spring air might tempt you to open your windows and let the fresh air roll in, but for someone with allergies, it’s a major no-no. Leaving the windows open during pollen seasons (spring, summer, and fall) allows pollen to enter your home, warns Patel. This increased exposure can cause persistent or worsening symptoms. She recommends keeping the windows closed in your home or car as much as possible to reduce exposure to pollen allergens.
6. Letting your pet sleep in bed with you
This may be a tough change to make if you’re an animal lover, but if your allergies are really that bad, consider moving your furry friend to his own bed at night. Letting pets sleep in your bed can unfortunately exacerbate your symptoms, according to Patel. “Their dander, as well as pollens that stick to their fur, may end up in your bed and make it difficult to sleep and breathe at night,” she says.
7. Allowing stress to go unchecked
You probably know that stress is not good for your health, but you may not realize that it could actually be making your seasonal allergies worse.
According to Friedman, stress can weaken the immune system and increase the amount of histamine (a chemical produced in the body that’s involved in allergic responses) in your bloodstream, which, in turn, worsens allergy symptoms. He recommends managing stress through techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing in order to check inflammation and promote immune balance. (Intimidated by meditation? This guide can help you get started.)