Spring has sprung… and we’re into it. This time of year means more daylight hours, warmer temperatures, and beautiful scenery everywhere you look. But there’s also a downside: dreaded seasonal allergies.

Every year the forecast says it’s going to be the Worst. Allergy. Season. Ever. Which means there’s never been a better time to find out what causes those brain-rattling sneezes, blocked ears, and itchy throats — and learn how to keep them at bay.

Ever make it through the winter cold season, only to be whacked in the head by sniffling, sinus infections, and stingy eyes come spring? Us too, and it sucks. You should see all our balled up tissues.

Anyway, this is super common. Seasonal allergies, also called allergic rhinitis or hay fever, impacts 50 million people in the United States. In fact, it’s on the top 5 list of chronic diseases in America.Seidman MD, et al. (2015). Clinical practice guideline: Allergic rhinitis. DOI: 10.1177/0194599814561600

And when the season crops up, work, school, and other activities suffer. Research shows that both productivityKuiper JR, et al. (2019). Workplace indirect cost impacts of nasal and sinus symptoms and related conditions. DOI: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001636 and quality of lifeDevillier P, et al. (2016). In allergic rhinitis, work, classroom and activity impairments are weakly related to other outcome measures. DOI: 10.1111/cea.12801 take a hit when people are sniffly and feeling like crud.

All this comes at great economic impact, too. It’s estimated that Americans spend $2 to $5 billion for allergenic rhinitis-related healthcare each year. And yearly lost productivity costs workplaces up to $4 billion.Seidman MD, et al. (2015). Clinical practice guideline: Allergic rhinitis. DOI: 10.1177/0194599814561600

Scientists don’t know exactly why we have allergies. But one study did find a fossilized molecule in chickens that provides a clue.Lihong Y, et al. (2015). Chicken IgY facilitates allergic airway inflammation in a chemical-induced murine asthma model by potentiating IL-4 release. DOI: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2015.08.1108

In essence, it’s an ancestor to the molecule that causes modern humans to have allergic reactions. This shows that allergic reactions began developing at least 160 million years ago. Science is freaking neat.

And have you ever noticed how some people don’t seem touched by hay fever? Not. One. Damned. Bit. (Jerks!) Like many other things, allergic reactions depend on both your genesMorin A, et al. (2017). Combining omics data to identify genes associated with allergic rhinitis.https://clinicalepigeneticsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13148-017-0310-1 and your lifestyle.Chong SN, et al. (2018). Epidemiology of allergic rhinitis and associated risk factors in Asia. DOI: 10.1186/s40413-018-0198-z

Other lines of research may shed more light on this mystery. One article suggests that bigger families and farm life reduce the frequency and severity of seasonal allergies. This is commonly known as the “hygiene hypothesis”. Genuniet J, et al. (2013). The combined effects of family size and farm exposure on childhood hay fever and atopy. DOI: 10.1111/pai.12053

Another study found a link between parasites and allergic response.Gross M, et al. (2015). Why did evolution give us allergies? DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.01.002 People with more of a certain kind of worm in them — yes, really — had fewer allergies. (Ick.)

Climate change is also shifting the game. The higher temps lead to more and earlier pollen release. This means that every year our immune systems have to combat allergens harder and sooner.Schmidt CW. (2016). Pollen overload: Seasonal allergies in a changing climate. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.124-A70

While dust mites, molds, and good ol’ Fluffy can irritate us indoors any time of year, pollen’s the most common seasonal allergen. Fun fact: These allergens are usually harmless. It’s actually our immune systems that are to blame.

When our bodies mistake pollen particles for harmful invaders, chemicals including histamine are released. These biochemical compounds expand blood vessels and cause an allergic reaction.

Here are some signs that your body is trying to fight seasonal allergies:

  • Eyes: watery, itchy, red, swollen
  • Nose: sneezing, congestion, watery drainage
  • Throat: itchy, sore, coughing, wheezing
  • Ears: congested, itchy

Sadly, for most people, seasonal allergies can be a long war instead of a quick battle. Some symptoms, like sneezing and itching, can happen almost immediately after exposure. But congestion can kick in up to 8 hours later (happy happy, joy joy!).

So what can we do? A lot, actually. We’ve wrangled this list of the best ways to deal with spring allergies. Give some of these recommendations a go!

Shut the front door, and the windows while you’re at it. Crank up the AC (with clean filters!) to control your climate while keeping pollen out. Fans are bad news as they can whip dust and pet hair around like Whirling Dervishes.

There are many things you can do to make your home more allergy-proof. For example:

  • Opt for hardwood flooring or area rugs instead of carpet.
  • Clean regularly and keep houseplants and knickknacks to a minimum. They aren’t called “dust collectors” for nothing!
  • Keep pets off furniture and out of bedrooms. Especially the pillows where you lay your head down at night.
  • Use a dehumidifier.
  • Try anti-allergen covers on pillows and mattresses.
  • Wash bedding and clothing in hot water weekly.

News flash: Pollen travels… and not just by way of birds and bees!

If you’ve ever come home as a sniveling mess after a windy day, it’s because airborne pollen is basically everywhere. Try to stay indoors when it’s especially windy out, or go to an indoor park.

Make sure to keep the lawn short and tidy. Ideally, have someone else cut the grass. If that’s not possible, wear a dust mask to avoid inhaling pollen.

Once you’re done, change into fresh clothes after you’re done mowing (yes, pollen can stick to your clothes). Also, consider taking an antihistamine prior to doing your yard work.

Wearing sunglasses year-round isn’t just cool, it’s an effective way to prevent allergy-related eye symptoms.

Your shades do more than just shield you from the sun — research shows they keep pollen out of your eyes.Comert S. (2016). Wraparound eyeglasses improve symptoms and quality of life in patients with seasonal allergic rhinoconjunctivitis. DOI: 10.1002/alr.21737 Pair them with a hat for next-level protection.

Washing your hands throughout the day is always good hygiene. It can reduce the hands-to-face transfer of irritants and allergens.

Also remember to shower before hittin’ the hay at night. Rinsing off any allergens that may be stuck to your skin and hair prevents them from getting in bed with you.

Yes, we’re going to tell you to put water up your nose. Say whaaaat? Keep reading.

Research has found that nasal irrigation, aka clearing our your nasal passages with a salt water, can actually work wonders on allergies. It works by flushing out trapped allergens, pollen, and other toxins.Head K, et al. (2018). Saline irrigation for allergic rhinitis. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD012597.pub2

Nasal irrigation has actually been around for centuries. It’s an ancient Aryuvedic technique traditionally used with a neti pot, which is similar in appearance to a small tea pot.

While the process is not the most glamorous thing in the whole world (just check out this video), it may bring you allergy relief — finally! — and that’s what counts.

Safety note: Only use distilled, properly filtered water, either pre-purchased that way or boiled to kill bacteria, otherwise the water could be dangerous.Ho EY, et al. (2016). A case study of the neti pot’s rise, Americanization, and rupture as integrative medicine in U.S. media discourse. DOI: 10.1080/10410236.2015.1047145

Also, please make sure the water is allowed to cool to a lukewarm temperature after you mix in your salt, and before you use it. Never, ever put hot water up your nose.

Some foods may help fight spring allergies. A 2020 study found that ginger extract was as good as loratadine — the generic of Claritin — at treating nasal symptoms and caused way fewer side effects.Yamprasert R, et al. (2020). DOI: 10.1186/s12906-020-2875-z (Mind blown!)

And if you’ve got a sweet tooth, good news. There’s some research to support that honey can reduce the symptoms of allergies, though more studies are needed.Zamzil AA, et al. (2013). Ingestion of honey improves the symptoms of allergic rhinitis: evidence from a randomized placebo-controlled trial in the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. DOI: 10.5144/0256-4947.2013.469

More good news on sweets. Research shows vitamin C can fight allergies.Vollbracht C, et al. (2018). Intravenous vitamin C in the treatment of allergies: An interim subgroup analysis of a long-term observational study. DOI: 10.1177/0300060518777044 In this study, the vitamin was delivered to participants intravenously (aka IV) but we’d prefer a more natural approach.

Some foods that are high in vitamin C include broccoli, kale, melons, cauliflower, strawberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and, of course, oranges.

Research shows that probiotics may help allergies, too, so be sure to load up on kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, and miso soup.Jamalkandi SA, et al. (2020). Oral and nasal probiotic administration for the prevention and alleviation of allergic diseases, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. DOI: 10.1017/S0954422420000116

Oh and keto fans, take notice: Evidence also points to greater rates of allergic rhinitis in people with high fat, low carb diets.Kim SO, et al. (2016). High-fat and low-carbohydrate diets are associated with allergic rhinitis but not asthma or atopic dermatitis in children. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150202

When you’re all stopped up, exercising might be the last thing you want to do. It’s hard enough breathing without running and jumping around.

But, according to those in the white coats, consistently doing aerobic activity over time can improve your body’s ability to breathe and combat allergy symptoms.Tongtaco W, et al. (2018). Effects of aerobic exercise and vitamin C supplementation on rhinitis symptoms in allergic rhinitis patients. DOI: 10.12932/AP-040417-0066

Acupuncture is now commonly recommended as a non-medication treatment for seasonal allergies. It’s a popular option because it’s safe and some research shows positive effects.Xue CC, et al. (2015). Acupuncture for seasonal allergic rhinitis: a randomized controlled trial. DOI: 10.1016/j.anai.2015.05.017

While it may take a few tries to really notice a difference, it’s another tool in your allergy-fighting kit. You can easily combine acupuncture with other conventional therapies without worrying about negative effects.

If you’ve tried everything and you’re still a watery, itchy, scratchy mess, hit the over-the-counter (OTC) remedies aisle at your local pharmacy. You have to breathe, after all, so do whatever it takes!

At the pharmacy, you’ll find antihistamines like eye drops and allergy pills. Be sure to opt for the nondrowsy variety, especially if you have to drive, pay attention in class, or present an important meeting. You know, things you need to be *extra* awake for.

Springtime allergies are due to seasonal irritants that trigger your body’s immune response. This is what causes symptoms like sneezing, watery eyes, itchy skin, and more.

Seasonal allergies affect millions of people. They take a huge toll on productivity and quality of life. Annual allergy-related healthcare and workplace costs are hefty.

Who gets allergies, how much of an impact they have, and symptoms vary from person to person. Genetics and other personal characteristics influence this. That said, pollen is the most common offender.

You probably won’t be able to avoid allergies altogether. Fortunately, there are many ways to minimize their frequency and severity and manage your symptoms. So, definitely give some of the methods in our list a try! It’s the best thing for your spring allergies.