As the calendar inches toward spring, you might be enjoying the last few weeks of your life without seasonal allergy symptoms. But instead of just waiting for the sneezing, itching, and congestion to start all over again, here’s an idea: Use the tail end of winter to get ready for allergy season.
As it turns out, there are plenty of things you can be doing right now to make allergy season more bearable. “In my practice, patients are instructed to go on allergy alert a few weeks before the season starts,” says Dr. Clifford Bassett, MD, author of The New Allergy Solution.
When your body senses an allergen like pollen or dust, it reacts by launching inflammatory chemicals called histamines. And it’s this inflammation that creates all those uncomfortable symptoms. Luckily, you can nip this inflammatory reaction in the bud and ensure that your symptoms are mild. In fact, you might even be able to stay totally symptom-free, says Dr. Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network.
Here are 5 things that can help.
If last year’s treatments didn’t work as well as you’d hoped, your allergist may be able to recommend something new, like sublingual tablets or immunotherapy shots. You may need to start these before allergy season actually gets underway, says Dr. Gary Gross, MD, an allergist and immunologist at Texas Health Dallas.
The best time to make an appointment depends on where you live, and on how mild the weather is. “Since the ‘start’ of a particular season can vary from year to year, its good to come in earlier rather than waiting,” Dr. Gross says.
Vacuum carpets and rugs, sweep the floors (paying extra attention to dusty corners), and dust surfaces and blinds with a microfiber cloth. That’ll get rid of dirt, dust, and animal dander buildup from the winter, so they don’t trigger a reaction or irritate your symptoms.
Make sure to wear a dust mask while cleaning to avoid breathing in any aggravating particles, or delegate the work to someone without allergies, Dr. Gross says. Once you de-gunk, try to keep your space in shape with weekly cleanings. And avoid opening the windows —it’ll only invite outdoor allergens in.
Many allergy medications work by blocking histamines, but green tea can help too, says Dr. Fred Pescatore, MD, MPH, CCN, author of The Allergy and Asthma Cure. It’s loaded with the antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has been shown to boast antihistamine properties.
“Drinking one or two cups a day in the weeks leading up to allergy season can block histamines and reduce congestion,” Pescatore says. Hot or iced both work, so pick whatever you like best.
Whether you’ve got them in heating or AC ducts, AC window units, or in portable air purifiers, air filters trap dust and other airborne allergens before you have a chance to breathe them in. That can help keep your respiratory tract from getting irritated and making your symptoms worse.
Over time, your filters can get clogged and start to work less efficiently. So if you aren’t already in the habit of installing fresh ones regularly, you should do it now, Dr. Bassett says. While you’re at it, check the manufacturer’s instructions—they may recommend changing the filters again during peak pollen season.
Snake and spider plants, ficus trees, bamboo palms, and peace lilies have been shown to have air-purifying qualities. “They may potentially clean and scrub away indoor air pollutants,” Dr. Bassett says. And that could translate to less respiratory tract irritation —and fewer symptoms — for you.