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April 11, 2016

Hay Fever by the Numbers

by Amanda MacMillan

Ah, spring! Warm breezes, chirping birds, blooming trees – and sniffling, congestion and all-around misery. Spring allergies, AKA hay fever, AKA allergic rhinitis, can last for weeks or even months, says Sherry Farzan, MD, an allergist at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital. But paying attention to a few critical numbers may help you find a little relief.

2 weeks

If you experience symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, and red, watery eyes for more than two weeks, it’s a good bet you have allergies, not a cold -- see your doctor. (On the other hand, a fever suggests that a cold is to blame.)

20 million

In the United States, nearly 20 million adults and more than 6 million children have hay fever. If you suffer in the springtime, you’re probably sensitive to pollen or mold spores. An allergist can do a skin or blood test to identify your individual triggers.

5 degrees

This past winter broke records in the United States, with temperatures averaging nearly 5 degrees above the 20th-century average. Warmer winters mean earlier, longer and more severe allergy seasons, experts say.

5 to 10 a.m.

Pollen levels are usually highest between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., so try to stay indoors during those hours, with the windows closed. If you have to go out, wear a hat and sunglasses to shield yourself from pollen, Farzan says.

3 to 4 days

An over-the-counter nasal decongestant can relieve stuffiness in a pinch, but if you use it for more than three or four days in a row, it can cause a rebound effect that makes your nose even more congested. If you need longer-term relief, an allergist can prescribe you something that won’t backfire.

90 percent

Allergy shots, also called immunotherapy, can reduce symptoms in 90 percent of people with seasonal allergies, Farzan says. You’ll need them weekly at first -- but eventually, once a month will do the trick.