The unseasonably warm winter -- some of us, in fact, have been asking, "What winter?" -- doesn't just mean record-high January temperatures or record-low snowfall.
In addition to weather oddities, we're facing a host of the usual health concerns -- at unusual times. The official start of flu season came months late, and now, spring allergies are wreaking havoc weeks early.
"We didn't have a winter in this country this year," Dr. Gailen Marshall, chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology's (ACAAI) Integrative Medicine Committee told The Huffington Post. "From Florida to Maine to California, people are being hammered with allergies."
Not only are the sniffles starting early, they're coming out in full force. Pollen counts are sky-high, especially in parts of the South and Midwest, according to the AP, as plants bloom early because of this winter's mild temps.
Experienced allergy-sufferers know by now how important it is to get a jump-start on allergy treatment, but in uncharted territory like this spring, allergies can sneak up on even the most seasoned sneezer. People who typically have problems in the summer or fall should take this early start to the spring season as a warning.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Marshall says. "If you know you have trouble in April or May, that might shift as much as a month, and you should get ready accordingly."
Your best option might be an allergy medication, depending on your symptoms and triggers, but if medication just isn't cutting it, these natural strategies may provide some additional relief.
"The expectations of us in a day are unreasonable," says Marshall. "We work from 'can' till 'can't'; we don't have time to relax." But that constant state of stress can actually make your <a href="http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/allerglas.htm" target="_hplink">response to allergens worse</a>. "Take some time to meditate or pray or rest, whatever one does to have time for inner reflection," he suggests. That includes making time for sleep. "When you're fatigued, that's a stressor," he explains, creating a vicious cycle of little sleep leading to more stress leading to worse allergies, which in turn can lead to less sleep. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnmichaelmayer/4623357600/" target="_hplink">jmayer1129</a></em>
Leave The Outdoors Out Of Doors
Anything you wear or bring outside can collect pollen -- that means shoes, jackets, gloves and Fido, too. Wash his paws before he traipses pollen onto the carpet, and leave your shoes at the door. Marshall suggests stashing a clean change of clothes in the garage, or as close to your door as possible, so you can change and throw your pollen-covered duds into the wash (or at least tuck them away in a bag) as soon as possible, to decrease the amount of pollen you bring inside. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/brookpeterson/2478152143/" target="_hplink">brookpeterson</a></em>
Close The Windows
As tempting as it is to welcome in spring breezes, you'll be ushering in more than just the air. Opening windows at home and in your car allows pollen to settle on furniture, fabric, clothes and more that you might not think to clean when your symptoms set in. <a href="http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2012/03/21/a-survival-guide-to-spring-allergy-season" target="_hplink">Window fans can create the same problem</a>, U.S. News reports. Too toasty with the windows closed tight? Running the air conditioning, while pricier, is a better bet if you want to stay sniffle-free, Marshall says. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/3336/5734257004/" target="_hplink">Diego Torres Silvestre</a></em>
Wash Your Hair Before Bed
Pollen circulating in the air can easily get trapped in your tresses -- so be sure to wash it out before spreading it to your sheets and pillowcases. Use gel or mousse? <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20361208_4,00.html" target="_hplink">Pollen is even more likely to get stuck</a> in those locks, Health.com reports. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/hygienematters/4505231340/" target="_hplink">SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget</a></em>
Wash Your Sheets
Speaking of bedtime, it's a good idea to wash sheets and pillowcases more regularly than you might be used to when allergies are at their peak. Once a week is a good baseline. Just make sure the water is hot -- it'll <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-122299/Managing-allergies-house-dust-mites.html" target="_hplink">kill the dust mites</a> roosting there, which can also trigger symptoms. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/17305559@N00/379691664/" target="_hplink">catherine</a></em>
Change Your Schedule
Pollen counts are higher at certain times of the day, like early in the morning, Marshall explains. Something as simple as switching your morning jog to an afternoon one can make a big difference, he says.
There's little evidence to prove that eating certain foods will make you any more or less likely to have worse seasonal allergies, but maintaining a balanced diet keeps the immune system in top shape, says Marshall. "Good nutrition, good exercise, a good healthy lifestyle will go a very long way to manage symptoms," he says. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/veganfeast/4087277820/" target="_hplink">Vegan Feast Catering</a></em>
Herbs or nutrients taken in supplement form may provide some relief, but none has been strongly supported by definitive research, says Marshall. Butterbur is one possible herb to try, and <a href="http://www.webmd.com/allergies/features/natural-allergy-relief" target="_hplink">grape seed extract and quercetin</a>, both found naturally in red wine, may also ease allergies, according to WebMD. There's some indication that getting more vitamin D could also help, says Marshall, and patients have come to him asking about vitamin C, vitamin B complexes and probiotics as well, he says. "If you are generally healthy, with no liver disease and no kidney disease, and not having to take any types of medicines on a regular basis, I never look down my nose and say it's a bad thing [to try supplements]," says Marshall, but it's important to discuss with your doctor first.
Rinse And Repeat
It may sound a little gross, but, just like you washed it out of your hair, you might want to wash that pollen out of your nose, too. A simple saline rinse will do the trick. "It's cheap, it's easy to use, it's not habit forming and it has virtually no side effects," says Marshall. Buy a bottle over the counter so you have an applicator, then refill with a homemade solution of 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 12 ounces of water, he says.
The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/first-acupuncture_n_1368067.html" target="_hplink">traditional Chinese treatment</a>, while maybe not your first thought for curing the sniffles, showed promise in a small 2004 study for easing symptoms, when used <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15291903" target="_hplink">in conjunction with herbal medicine</a>.
For more on allergies, click here.