Allergy season kicks into high gear for people with sensitivities to pollen in the spring and summer. Unfortunately, due to climate change, allergy season has been starting earlier each year and lasting longer. There is also a 21% increase in pollen released into the air compared to previous decades, which can further irritate people with airborne allergies or asthma in the warmer months.

Fortunately for those who have airborne allergies, there are ways to limit exposure to irritants and treatments available. People with this condition who enjoy lots of time outdoors or outdoor workouts are especially vulnerable during the spring and summer months. Here are our tips for keeping symptoms under control while continuing to do what you love:

When is peak allergy season?

Peak allergy season can last from February to November, depending on the type of allergen. Tree pollen is at its peak in early-to-mid spring and is usually at its worst in March. Grass pollen peaks in late May and into early summer. Weed pollen and ragweed pollen tends to peak in July or August and last throughout the end of the summer. Knowing which allergens one is most sensitive to can be helpful in preparing for the worst of it.

How can I prevent a bad allergy season?

Experts recommend beginning treatment for allergy season about two weeks before it gets into full swing, which is one reason knowing the peak of your particular allergy trigger can help. For example, if you’re aware that grass pollen tends to cause the worst flare ups of your symptoms, starting allergy medication in mid-May can make for a much easier time later on.

Pollen counts are tracked by online listings and phone apps that give you the counts for the day in your area. Getting information on when the pollen count will be at its peak in your area can help you prepare. During peak season, wearing a pollen mask when you do outdoor activities or workouts can cut down on exposure. A silver lining of mask-wearing for the pandemic is that it can actually cut down on the pollen inhaled.

What are the best over-the-counter allergy treatments?

The first line of over-the-counter treatments for allergies are antihistamines. Over-the-counter medications that will not make you drowsy include antihistamines like Claritin, Zyrtec or Allegra (or generic versions of these drugs). Benadryl can work well too, but it may cause drowsiness, so it might not be the best choice if you are working, driving or doing anything that requires focused attention.

Decongestants such as Sudafed or Afrinol (or generic versions of these drugs) can help treat symptoms like congestion and sneezing. Saline-based nasal sprays with medication can help you breathe easier on days your allergies get bad, but they can also damage tissue in the nose, so use carefully. Some experts believe after a few days of use, nasal sprays can become habit-forming because of this tissue damage—as tissue is damaged in the nose, it can make it harder to breathe easily without using even more of the product.

When do I need to speak to my doctor about my allergies?

Speak to your medical provider about allergies if you are unable to get relief from over-the-counter allergy medication like Claritin. There may be stronger medications they can prescribe you.

In some cases, allergies can trigger asthma. If you experience symptoms like wheezing or difficulty breathing—especially following exercise—this could be an asthma attack triggered by allergens. In this case it can be important to have an inhaler, so be sure to speak to a medical provider to be ready for peak allergy season.

Any tips for avoiding airborne allergens?

Avoiding airborne allergens isn’t easy, but there are a few things you can do to limit your exposure. Doing outdoor chores like lawn mowing or anything that stirs up pollen in your plants is one way to avoid contact. 

Warm, windy days spread the highest amount of pollen in the air, so keeping windows and doors closed in that type of weather will limit your exposure. A good time to go outside in the spring or summer is after a rain, since the rain clears pollen from the air.

On the warm, windy days you have to go outside, change and wash your clothes quickly when you return. Avoid hanging laundry out to dry during the peak of allergy season since both clothing and bed linens can carry allergens into your home. If you are very sensitive, consider air filtration systems for the spring and summer months.