FYI, Allergy Season Starts Way Sooner (And Lasts Longer) Than You Think (2024)

Running out of tissues faster than usual? Eyes feeling itchier lately? Or maybe you've noticed extra sinus pressure building (and not just because of the changing temp). You're not alone. Allergy season 2022 has officially begun, and seasonal allergy sufferers everywhere are pulling out the usual remedies.

FYI, seasonal allergies begin when your body's immune system reacts to outdoor allergens like tree pollen and grass, according to Neeta Ogden, MD, an allergist and the medical advisor to Curex. These allergens enter your body through your eyes, nose, or mouth, and can eventually reach your lungs. There, the allergens come into contact with your body's allergic cells, causing inflammation and typical symptoms like itchy eyes, nasal congestion, sinus pressure, rashes, an itchy scalp, and a postnasal drip, Dr. Ogden says.

Depending on how severe your allergies are, you might have all of these symptoms or just a few. You may also experience what Dr. Ogden calls a reactive airway, meaning it's harder for you to breathe when you come into contact with allergens outside. It's "almost like an asthma response to spring allergies," she explains.

Luckily, it's possible to stop your allergies from making your life miserable—and the sooner you get started, the better. Here's when allergy season officially starts, how long you can expect it to last, and what you can do now to keep those annoying symptoms from popping up later.

When does allergy season 2022 start?

Some allergens, like pollens, are seasonal. Tree pollen pops up in the spring (generally in late March to April), grass pollen arrives in the late spring (around May), while weed pollen is most prevalent in the summer (July to August) and ragweed pollen takes over from summer to fall (late August to the first frost), says Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network.

But if you're one of the unlucky few whose allergies last basically all year round, there are a few other factors to consider. First, your seasonal allergies could be combining with your body's reactions to indoor allergens like dust mites or animal dander, notes Dr. Ogden. You may also be bringing outdoor allergens into your home—you can actually collect pollen and grass on your shoes, on your clothes, or even in your hair.

As a result, you may continue to experience symptoms even after allergy season is officially over, all the way from February to November. So pretty much every season except winter.

And climate change means allergy season begins earlier and lasts longer, adds Corinne Keet, MD, PhD, a professor and allergist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Specifically, the season has been arriving 20 days earlier than it did in 1990, and contains at least 20 percent more pollen, the New York Times reported.

To get super specific, has a National Allergy Map that provides an up-to-date allergy forecast in different areas around the country and an Allergy Alert app that provides five-day forecasts with in-depth info on specific allergens, helping you decide if you should stay indoors that day. You should also note that windy, warm, and sunny days can increase levels of pollen turnout, while drizzling or rainy weather is actually associated with no or lower levels of seasonal pollen, explains Clifford W. Bassett, MD, the medical director at Allergy and Asthma Care of New York.

But while you might think that allergy season is just that, allergies, it actually poses a pretty significant health risk depending how severely your area is hit. For people with major lung issues like asthma, allergens like pollen exposure can be a major threat to their physical health, ability to breathe, etc. Research also shows that kids perform worse in school during allergy season, and that pollen exposure weakens your immune system’s ability to fight off respiratory illnesses.

When should I start taking allergy meds?

There’s no point in waiting until you’re miserable to take allergy meds. In fact, allergists recommend you start taking meds a couple of weeks before allergy season arrives, or, at the latest, take them the moment you notice symptoms, says Dr. Parikh. Taking them early can stop an immune system freak-out before it happens, lessening the severity of symptoms, she adds. Check out the National Allergy Map to figure out when to start taking meds based on where you live.

As for which allergy meds to take, if you’re seriously stuffed, start with steroid nasal sprays such as Flonase or Rhinocort, which reduce inflammation-induced stuffiness, says Dr. Keet. And if you've got itching, sneezing, and a runny nose too, look for non-sedating antihistamines such as Zyrtec, Xyzal, or Allegra, she adds.

Just remember: While OTC allergy meds suppress symptoms, they don’t cure the problem, so they may be less effective if your allergies are worsening, notes Dr. Parikh.

What else can I do to prepare for allergy season?

Even if you're already taking OTC allergy meds, you may still experience symptoms. So, what then?

Luckily, there are a few other solutions. First, Dr. Ogden recommends consulting with a board-certified allergist who can discover *exactly* what's causing problems for you. "You need to take proactive steps," she says—and the easiest way to cut down on symptoms is to find out what's causing them, so you can avoid them.

Once you know what the culprit is, don't exercise outside or sleep with your windows open. Both may be tempting once the weather gets warmer, but "you have to isolate yourself from your allergens," Dr. Ogden says, so embrace the indoors to reduce the chance of having a reaction.

And try to remove allergens once you get home: Take nighttime showers, make sure to shampoo your hair, and wash your face to make sure nothing's stuck to your eyelashes. "You just want to remove pollen residue," Dr. Ogden explains. For extra protection, consider investing in an air purifier for your bedroom.

If that's not working, allergy shots, a.k.a. allergen immunotherapy, can make your immune system less reactive to allergens. For some people, they can even induce a cure, says Dr. Parikh. “By giving small increasing doses of what you are allergic to, you train the immune system to slowly stop being as allergic,” she says. “This is the best way to address allergies, as it targets the underlying problem and builds your immunity to a specific allergen.”

The downside? Allergy shots are a bit of a time commitment. You'll need to get them once a week for six to eight months, then once a month for a minimum of two years, says Dr. Parikh. You need to be a little bit patient too, because it can take about six months to start feeling better. So, if you want protection by March, you'll probably have to start in September the year before.

There are also tablets and drops that go under your tongue to help desensitize your body, Dr. Ogden adds. You'll need to see a doctor to get a prescription, but once you take them, they can help combat multiple allergens. "There is some thinking that if you start these drops a few months before the allergy season, you'll feel the impact the following season," she says.

How can I tell if my symptoms are allergies or COVID-19?

Before you stress out, know that there's one positive aspect when it comes to allergens in the year 2022: "Masks mean less inhalation of pollen through the nose or mouth, and that may translate to decreased symptoms for some sufferers," explains Manisha Relan, MD, a board-certified allergist. Noted!

That said, if you're worried about telling the difference between symptoms, whenever they do arise, listen up. The COVID and allergy symptoms that typically overlap are headaches, wheezing, and sore throat. It's also possible to experience nasal congestion, a runny nose, and sneezing with COVID too, though these are more commonly allergy symptoms. A dry cough, shortness of breath, and loss of smell, are all likely COVID-19 symptoms, though there's always the possibility that these are due to allergies.

Overall, though, if you're having trouble telling if your symptoms are allergies or COVID, your best bet is to get checked out at a doctor's office or urgent care center.

FYI, Allergy Season Starts Way Sooner (And Lasts Longer) Than You Think (3)

Cassie Shortsleeve

Freelance Writer

Cassie Shortsleeve is a skilled freelance journalist with more than a decade of experience reporting for some of the nation's largest print and digital publications, including Women's Health, Parents, What to Expect, The Washington Post, and others. She is also the founder of the digital motherhood support platform Dear Sunday Motherhood and a co-founder of the newsletter Two Truths Motherhood and the maternal rights non-profit Chamber of Mothers. She is a mom to three daughters and lives in the Boston suburbs.

FYI, Allergy Season Starts Way Sooner (And Lasts Longer) Than You Think (4)

Kristin Canning

Kristin Canning is the features director at Women's Health, where she assigns, edits and reports long-form features on emerging health research and technology, women's health conditions, psychology, sexuality, mental health, reproductive justice, wellness entrepreneurs, women athletes, and the intersection of health, fitness, and culture for both the magazine and the website. She's worked in health media for seven years, holding prior positions at Health, SELF, and Men's Health. When she's not writing and editing, you can find her running, hiking, biking, dancing, listening to podcasts, or planning her next outdoor adventure.

FYI, Allergy Season Starts Way Sooner (And Lasts Longer) Than You Think (2024)
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