Allergies and Pollen: The Nose Knows!


As a kid who grew up in the high desert of Southern California outside of Los Angeles, there were a couple of things that simply weren’t part of my childhood in the spring and summer months: mosquitos and allergies. It wasn’t until my family moved to the Washington, D.C. area during my high school years that I started to experience the constant itch of mosquito bites (mosquitos seem to really, really like me) and the achy cheekbones, stuffy nose, and itchy eyes of high pollen spring days.

Today, it’s kind of hard to remember what those pre-mosquito and pre-allergy days were like. My current city and state are known for high levels of allergens in the air, and the sneeze is always with me this time of year.

Whether you call it hay fever, seasonal allergies, or you’re fancy and call it allergic rhinitis, this time of year heralds in a time of lots of itches and sneezes. And for good reason. This time of year in many parts of the country is marked by dramatic levels of pollen released from weeds, grasses, and trees. As you’re out taking in the mild spring weather, you’re also breathing in that pollen, and that pollen can wreak havoc on your sinuses. 

Common symptoms of the pollen plague are the classic runny or stuffy nose and lots of sneezing. Some people also experience headaches, a scratchy throat, and eyes that are itchy and watery. While these symptoms are uncomfortable and inconvenient, they generally will pass as the heavy pollen season moves on. 

A run to your local pharmacy will give you aisles of over-the-counter options for combating seasonal allergy symptoms. From nasal sprays to eye drops to antihistamines, there are many choices for helping you be more comfortable during the ah-choo days. One thing to note as you look for OTCs to ease your sneeze: some antihistamines that contain diphenhydramine (like the brand-name drug Benadryl), which, when used habitually, has been linked to increased dementia risk. Be sure to talk with your medical provider about the best OTCs to use for your type of seasonal allergies and overall medical history. 

Why does pollen right so many of us right in the nostrils? Our bodies are always on alert to protect us, and when pollen begins to swirl through the air as plants release their reproductive cells, our immune systems hit overdrive to try to block pollen. The protein in pollen in and of itself is rarely dangerous to us; our body’s interpretation that we could be in danger and our immune system’s response to that perceived danger causes the allergy symptoms we experience. 

There are a few things you can do to lessen your body’s allergenic response this time of year:

  • Stay Indoors: Pollen is usually at its highest at midday or early afternoon. If you can, plan to stay indoors during this time to lessen your exposure. If you’re going to go for a walk or going to do yard work, try to do it in the early morning or at dusk to reduce your exposure.
  • Watch Out For Windy Days: No matter the time of day, pollen can be everywhere on windy days as the wind blows plants, grasses, and trees and push more pollen into the air. On particularly windy days, plan on keeping to the indoors.
  • Keep Those Windows Closed: Yes, it seems like a rite of spring to throw open the windows and doors and welcome in the fresh air. But if you live in an area with high pollen counts, try to wait for days at other times of the year to air out the house.
  • Check Your Local Pollen Situation: Lots of local weather services now have allergy reports that you can check to see what conditions are like in your area or in areas you are traveling to. You can also look at online sites like for up-to-date allergy conditions.
  • Wash It Off: Yes, pollen can gather on your clothes and skin. When you come in from the morning walk or time in the yard, be sure to shower and change clothes to keep your pollen exposure to a minimum.
  • Talk With Your Health Care Provider: Your provider can help you come up with the best strategy for managing your seasonal allergy symptoms and can also refer you for testing so that you can optimally manage your level of exposure and response to allergens. And if you’re a Member of Altrua HealthShare on certain memberships, this is a great way to use your access to DialCare. This telehealth feature gives you online access to healthcare providers 24/7 from the comfort and convenience of your home. Your DialCare provider can help you manage your allergy symptoms and can also prescribe any anti-allergy medications you might need. (If you’re not yet an Altrua HealthShare Member, you can read more about the DialCare feature available on several of the memberships by clicking here.)

For a lot of us, because of where we live, we’re going to deal with seasonal allergies. But with a little bit of strategy, you can hopefully help keep the worst of the sneezy-headachy-itchy symptoms away until the drier summer months round the corner.