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Do you love the great outdoors, but don't feel so great out there during allergy season?
To help prevent their symptoms from acting up, gardeners, adventurers and outdoor exercisers with seasonal allergies may benefit from planning ahead before engaging in their favorite activities.
By taking a few precautions in advance, people with a green thumb can steer clear of red, watery eyes. And runners, hikers, golfers, cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts who have seasonal allergies can safely pursue their passions.
"The keys are to be smart about allergen exposures and minimize them as much as possible," said Dr. Sarita Patil, an allergist with Massachusetts General Hospital's Allergy Associates in Boston.
Patil offered the following seven tips on how outdoor lovers can remain active during allergy season.
Know exactly what you're allergic to. People with allergic rhinitis may be sensitive to specific types of pollen from trees, grasses, weeds and mold spores. Trees release pollens first, usually from late winter into spring or early summer, depending on the location. Grasses typically pollinate next, in late spring and early summer. Weeds — such as ragweed, the most common cause of hay fever — pollinate in late summer and early fall. These plants produce large quantities of pollen, and the grains are light, so they can be carried by the wind for hundreds of miles and can be easily inhaled.
Be able to identify your allergen by sight. To limit exposure, know the look of the plants to which you're allergic, Patil suggested. If you're a hiker, know what type of vegetation, plants and trees are found in the areas you'll be heading into. You might decide to either premedicate, by taking a nonsedating antihistamine the evening before or the morning of your hike, or by picking somewhere else to go, she said.
Pay attention to pollen counts. "Pollen counts are pretty accurate, and have become a regular part of weather forecasts these days," Patil told Live Science. So people with allergies should keep an eye on them. Pollen levels are higher on dry, warmand windy days, and lower on cloudy, rainy and windless days — making those days best for people with seasonal allergies who want to enjoy outdoor activities, she explained.
Time your activity appropriately. "If possible, pick a time of day to exercise when your allergy-inducing plants don't pollinate," Patil said. Peak pollination times for grasses are in the afternoon to early evening, so outdoor exercisers and gardeners who are sensitive to them may want to avoid these times. Dawn and dusk are the worst times for people with tree pollen allergies. [9 Myths About Seasonal Allergies]
Protect yourself outdoors. Golfers who have grass allergies should know whether the pollens they are allergic to are found on their favorite courses, Patil said. Cyclists get exposed to wind-carried pollens, but sunglasses might help protect them from pollen entering the eyes. If you're doing yard work, avoid touching your hands to your face and eyes, Patil recommended. People with severe weed or grass allergies may want to find someone else to care for their lawns during peak allergy season, she said.
Keep pollens away. Make sure the windows in your home and car stay closed as much as possible during allergy season, Patil said. When you come inside after gardening or exercising, take a shower to wash pollen off your skin and hair. "Otherwise, it will spend the night snuggling up to you on your pillowcase," she said. Remove your shoes and change your clothes, since they can carry pollen inside your house. And keep pets clean to limit the spread of pollen indoors. Rinsing your nose with saline nasal sprays and your eyes with lubricating eye drops can also help remove pollen, she said.
Develop an allergy plan. Work with your allergist to develop a treatment plan that's right for your active lifestyle, sensitivities and symptoms, Patil suggested.