Winter was milder than usual in many parts of the country this year. Warmer weather has brought earlier pollination of trees and – you guessed it – an earlier hay fever season as well.

If you suffer from hay fever, buckle your seat belt. You and about 35 million other people may be in for a rougher ride not only this year, but also in years to come.(1) That’s because recent studies suggest that rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels from climate change are behind earlier and longer hay fever seasons.(2)

But what exactly is hay fever? And how can you know for sure whether your sniffles and sneezes are due to a late winter cold or an early hay fever attack? Hay fever is a nasal allergic reaction to airborne particles such as pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. It’s more likely to be hay fever than a cold if your symptoms last longer than a week or so and your nasal discharge is clear.  Also, colds can cause body aches and fevers, but allergies don’t.(3)

The symptoms of hay fever may include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing, along with postnasal dripItchy eyes, nose, and throat
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Sore throat or hoarse voice
  • Facial pressure or pain
  • Fatigue(4,5)

You can do many things to ease the discomfort of allergies. First, track pollen counts in your area. In general, it may help you to know that pollen levels tend to be highest in the morning during ragweed pollen season (late summer and early fall). They tend to be highest in the evening during grass pollen season (spring and summer). And, as you probably already know – sunny, windy days are often the worst.(6)One easy way to find pollen counts in your area is to visit the web page of the National Allergy Bureau. Here, you can also sign up for free email alerts with daily pollen and mold reports.(7) Then, try to stay inside on high pollen-count days. Also:

  • Keep house and car windows closed. If necessary, use air conditioning instead.
  • Avoid outdoor chores such as yard work or mowing grass.
  • Wear a facemask that filters pollen out if you can’t avoid being outdoors.
  •  Take a shower and wash your hair right after being outdoors.(2,6)

See me if you need help selecting over-the-counter allergy medicines such as nasal sprays and rinses and oral medication. I can also answer your questions about any prescription medications you might need. And if your hay fever is really wreaking havoc, ask an allergist about whether you’re a good candidate for allergy shots. They can provide long-term relief by making you less sensitive to pollen.(4)   


1.                 AmericanAcademyof Allergy Asthma & Immunology: “Outdoor Allergens: Tips to Remember.” Available at: Accessed March 8, 2012.

2.                 AmericanAcademyof Allergy Asthma & Immunology: “Climate Change and Outdoor Allergies » ” Available at:

3.                  MedlinePlus: “Mild Winter Heralds Early Sneezin’ Season.” Available at: Accessed March 8, 2012.

4.                  MedlinePlus: “Hayfever.” Available at: Accessed March 8, 2012.

5.                  UpToDate: “Allergic rhinitis (seasonal allergies) (Beyond the Basics).” Available at: Accessed March 8, 2012.

6.                  FDA: “Itching for Allergy Relief?” Available at: Accessed March 8, 2012.

7.                 AmericanAcademyof Allergy Asthma & Immunology: ” National Allergy Bureau.” Available at: Accessed March 8, 2012.

8.                  MedlinePlus: “Mild Winter Heralds Early Sneezin’ Season.”