(www.BlackDoctor.org) -- Most people think that the fight against allergies starts in the spring and ends with the summer, but that simply isn’t true. Spring, summer, winter, and fall… every season of the year brings new obstacles to allergy sufferers. Whether you suffer from seasonal allergies (such as sensitivity to pollen in the spring or mold in the fall), or allergies that are a nuisance in every season (like pet dander and dust mites), there are plenty of things you can do to lessen your symptoms year-round.
Spring Allergy Tips
The majority of spring allergies are related to pollen—powdery grains that are carried by wind or insects and are necessary for plant reproduction. Flowering plants and trees, such as the oak, elm, birch, ash, hickory, poplar, maple and walnut, start pollinating between January and April, depending on their location. When pollen is in the air, it can land in the eyes, nose, lungs, or skin of a sensitive person and cause itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, coughing, and other breathing difficulties.
Pollen allergy symptoms are often minimal on rainy, windless days because pollen does not move much during those conditions. Hot, dry, and windy weather brings more pollen into the air and results in more allergy symptoms. In the United States, pollen season typically runs from March until October, but it can begin as early as January in southern states.
If you are sensitive to pollen, here are some tips to help you cope:
-- Keep windows and doors closed as much as possible to prevent pollen from blowing into your home and car.
-- Avoid going outside between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when pollen counts are highest.
-- Don’t dry your clothing on an outside line, as pollen can be transferred to your clothes and into your home that way. Use a clothes dryer instead, or an indoor clothing rack.
-- If you’ve been outside, change your clothes in the garage before entering your home to prevent pollen transfer. Shower and wash your hair before going to bed so you don’t spend the night covered in allergens.
Summer Allergy Tips
Grass pollen is a common cause of allergic reactions in the late spring and early summer, but it can also be a factor in any season that lawns are mowed. A grass pollen allergy can cause hives and skin irritation, as well as itchy, watery eyes and a runny nose.
If you have a grass pollen allergy, here are some tips to help you through the season:
-- Do not mow the lawn yourself. Find someone else to cut the grass instead. If you have to do the cutting, wear a paper mask to cover your nose and mouth.
-- Keep windows closed during the spring and summer (especially while the lawn is being mowed) and use an air conditioner to cool your home to prevent pollen from blowing in.
-- Ask a family member without allergies to shampoo or brush your pets regularly. This will help remove any pollen that might be trapped on their fur after they go outside.
-- Take a vacation during the height of the pollen season to a more neutral environment, such as a beach, to reduce your exposure to allergens.
Fall Allergy Tips
Fall allergies are usually caused by weeds that pollinate in the late summer and early fall. Depending on your location, you could be affected by ragweed, sagebrush and tumbleweed in the fall, as well as some trees that pollinate in cooler weather. Molds thrive in damp piles of rotting leaves, making the fall a prime time for anyone with a mold allergy.
If you have fall allergies, here are some ways to cope:
-- Avoid yard work, such as gardening and raking. This stirs up pollens and mold spores, making an allergic reaction more likely.
-- Have a professional service clean out your gutters if they are full of wet, moldy leaves.
-- Don’t over-water your houseplants as wet soil encourages mold growth.
-- Remove any visibly moldy carpet or belongings and wash any moldy areas (such as the bathroom) with a solution of one part bleach to 20 parts water.
If you suffer from fall pollen allergies, see the Summer Allergy Tips (above).
Winter Allergy Tips
Winter allergies are associated with sensitivities to mold and dust mites. Because people tend to spend most of their time indoors during the winter, they are exposed to these allergens around the clock.
If you suffer from winter allergies, these tips will help:
-- If you have a wood-burning fireplace, store your wood outside. Only burn logs that appear to be free of mold.
-- Keep fresh-cut trees and greens (such as Christmas trees or wreaths) outside for a few days to help reduce the amount of mold they bring into the house. Even if you use artificial trees or wreaths, they can still become moldy and dusty over the years, so clean them outside before decorating.
-- Clean all holiday decorations before putting them out for display, as they may have collected mold and dust during storage. Do this outside to prevent the spread of allergens throughout your house.
-- Wash fabric decorations in hot, soapy water before putting them on display. Protect your nose and mouth with a paper mask while washing the items, if necessary.
-- Consider purchasing an air filtration system with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter to reduce the amount of dust and dust mites in your home.
-- Use a vacuum with a multi-layered filter bag and clean often to remove allergens from your carpet.
-- Remove as much carpet from your home as possible since carpet holds and traps dust and allergens. Replace carpet with smooth-surface floors (wood, tile, laminate, etc.), which are easier to clean, to reduce exposure even more.
-- Cover your mattress, box spring and pillows with zippered cases to reduce your exposure to dust mites. Wash your blankets at least every two weeks in hot water (set your water heater to 130 degrees) to kill the mites already in your bedding.
If you suffer from allergies, it's important to talk to your doctor. Lifestyle changes and other tips can only help so much, but your doctor can help you develop a treatment plan that works for you. Don't let allergies stop you from enjoying the best of every season.