Avoiding Outdoor Allergens

Seasonal allergies affect more than 35 million people in the United States. Often prompted by sensitivities to outdoor allergens such as molds and pollens, seasonal allergy sufferers are prone to sneezing, congestion and itchy, watery eyes.

Allergy symptoms are often minimal on wet, cloudy or windless days because pollen does not circulate well under those conditions. Hot, dry and windy weather, however, increases the amount of pollen and mold in the air, resulting in more severe allergy symptoms.

If you are sensitive to outdoor pollens, you'll have symptoms at specific times of the year. If you have symptoms in the spring, you are probably allergic to tree pollens, while grass and weed pollens are most prevalent in the summer. If your allergies are worse in the later summer or fall, you are probably allergic to ragweed and tumbleweed pollens.

Here are some tips to help manage and control your exposure to outdoor allergens:
  • Avoid walking outdoors in wooded areas or gardens as much as possible. Keep the amount of vegetation around your home to a minimum.
  • Exercise indoors during the pollen season.
  • Stay indoors on hot, dry, windy days when pollen counts are usually the highest. Avoid going outside between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. in particular, as pollen counts are generally highest during these early morning hours.
  • Ask a friend or family member cut the lawn, which should be cut regularly to prevent the grass from growing tall enough to produce seed heads and pollens. If you can’t avoid doing the job yourself, wear a paper filter mask to help guard against your exposure to grass pollen. Stay away from freshly cut grass as much as possible.
  • Wear a paper mask while gardening to protect yourself from flower and weed pollens. Clean up and dispose of all plant waste immediately to prevent it from getting wet and moldy.
  • Place your compost bin further from your house if you are allergic to molds; have another family member add new materials to your compost pile when necessary, or wear a mask to keep your exposure to a minimum.
  • Don’t handle or rake leaves, hay or mulch if you are allergic to mold, as these are often a prime breeding ground for mold spores. Avoid cleaning gutters and piles of garden clippings that are full of wet leaves.
  • Remove weeds from your yard before they can pollinate and spread.
  • Change your clothes immediately and take a shower after you have been outdoors. This helps to remove any pollen that may be trapped on your clothing or in your hair. Keep a new set of clothes in the garage to change into instead of tracking pollen throughout your home.
  • Use a clothes dryer to dry your laundry instead of hanging items out to dry. Pollens and mold spores can collect on line-drying laundry, making your symptoms worse when you bring the items inside again.
  • Keep all windows and doors closed during the allergy season to prevent allergens from coming in with the breeze; use an air conditioner to cool your home instead of a fan, which can pull more pollen inside.
  • Keep you car windows closed to prevent contact with airborne allergens; use the air conditioner to cool the interior.
  • Plan your vacation time carefully. Take a holiday near the beach or ocean during the height of the pollen season to reduce your amount of exposure. Time your other outdoor activities (hiking, cycling, etc.) for times when pollen counts are lower.
  • Rinse your nasal passages with saline spray after being outdoors to remove any pollen you may have inhaled.
  • Don't wash your cat or dog yourself. Ask a friend or family member to wash your pets regularly to remove any pollens they may have collected while outside.
  • Place washable area rugs at all entrances to your home to help trap allergens before they are carried throughout the house. Wash rugs each week in hot water.

The best way to avoid outdoor allergens is to plan ahead and work your life around your sensitivities. Knowing your area’s pollen count is a good place to start. The National Allergy Bureau gathers pollen and mold counts from across the country and reports them to the media several times each week; check your local newspaper or radio station for details. These results are also posted on the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s website.