Why Is My Hay Fever Acting Up? I’m Stuck Indoors
By Cathy Cassata
Although you're self-isolating and staying indoors more often, you may be wondering why your seasonal allergies are still kicking in.
"Even though you may be inside for a long period of time, once you've been outside — we do go out at some point — the allergic cascade continues long after the exposure has stopped," Dr. Anne K. Ellis, professor and chair of the division of allergy & immunology at Queen's University, told Healthline.
Even heading out for a run or a walk can expose you to allergens. While you're exercising, pollen can attach to your clothes, making its way back into your house when you return, said Jana Abelovska, lead pharmacist and medical advisor at Click Pharmacy.
Plus, pollen particles are tiny and can travel far and wide.
"If you are opening your doors and windows more often than normal to let air in, these will find their way inside your home and attach themselves to various household items, as well as travel directly into your eyes or nasal passages," said Abelovska.
Ellis agreed, noting that because many homes are not "airtight," some pollen can get inside even when windows and doors are shut.
Additionally, she said other allergies may flare while you're stuck inside.
"Many patients with hay fever also have perennial (year round) triggers, such as dust mites, molds, and animals. If these are in your home, avoidance is almost impossible and thus symptoms can continue," said Ellis.
How to Manage Allergies
Spring allergies begin in February and last until early summer in many parts of the United States.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology reports that early in the year, tree pollination begins, with grass pollination occurring in spring and summer, and ragweed in the late summer and fall.
If winter temperatures are mild, plants may pollinate early, and if spring is filled with rain, plants may grow faster, leading to an increase in mold.
All of this exposure can cause the following symptoms:
- runny nose
- nasal itch and congestion
- itchy/watery or red/burning eyes
- itchy skin
- cough, due to postnasal drip, especially if you have asthma
In addition to environmental triggers, Ellis said other causes of respiratory irritation and allergy-like symptoms include indoor air fresheners, scented candles, and essential oils.
"Minimize use of these products or eliminate them from your home entirely. Similarly, environmental tobacco smoke and marijuana smoke can trigger symptoms in allergic patients, so ask anyone in your home who does smoke to do so outdoors," she said.
Because it's tempting to rub your nose and eyes when seasonal allergies flare, Ellis says frequent handwashing is key.
"Handwashing is going to be even more important for you than other people who have less temptation to touch their face. Try hard not to, or use physical barriers between your fingers and your face, such as a tissue," she said.
"Of note, the onset of action of a nasal steroid is much slower than an antihistamine, so you must use it regularly for benefit, usually seen within 3 to 5 days of use," said Ellis.
She stressed that your treatment plan should be determined by an allergist.
"The best prevention occurs, however, if you see a board certified allergist for a prescription of allergen specific immunotherapy, which targets the [underlying] cause of the allergic symptoms, and changes your immune system's response to these normally harmless proteins," Ellis said.
"Don't be afraid to contact your allergist. Most of us are still 'seeing' patients via telemedicine or virtual care, so contact the office to ask for advice," she said.
Abelovska said there are things you can do at home to try to prevent and soothe symptoms until you can see your doctor or get to the pharmacy.
4 Tips to Help Manage Your Allergies at Home
1. Clean your home regularly
Ensure sheets, throws, tea towels, and upholstery are washed more often than usual to get rid of settled dust and pollen particles.
"Bedding is vital [because if] these have particles sitting on them, [they] will be able to attach themselves to you and you could inhale them throughout the night," Abelovska said.
Cleanliness carries over to your pets, too. Make sure they're cleaned and groomed to ensure that loose animal hair isn't being left around your home and causing further irritation.
2. Keep doors and windows closed
As hard as it is during quarantine, keeping the windows and doors closed will keep pollen from traveling inside.
"I would advise opening the window for a few hours in the morning and then try to close them or at least only have them open a crack to try and stop pollen particles from coming in," said Abelovska.
3. Wash your face
In addition to washing your hands frequently, Abelovska suggests washing your face twice a day.
"If you are suffering quite bad with itchy eyes and a running nose, [washing your face throughout the day can help] get rid of any irritants from the eyes and nose passages. [You can also] try clearing your nasal passage with a salt water solution once to twice a day. This should help to clear any irritants from your nose that have been able to attach themselves to nose hairs," she said.
4. Put Vaseline on your nose
Abelovska said applying a little bit of Vaseline or another type of balm on your nostrils can help catch and trap pollen particles and keep them from entering your nasal passage.
"You may find you want to do this a few times a day to ensure that the particles stick to the balm, especially if you are sneezing a lot and wiping your nose with a tissue," she said.
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