For those of us feeling like we’ve been shut inside for the past year, spring, summer, and fall represent a chance to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. For allergy sufferers, however, this year is a bit of a struggle.

Approximately 60 million Americans deal with seasonal allergies related to pollen, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Besides sneezing and wheezing, many people suffer from allergic conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the eye. The CDC says 30% of Americans suffer from allergic rhinitis, which includes red, watery, or itchy eyes.

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For allergy sufferers hoping for relief this year, it’s a mixed message. While some areas are seeing lighter than normal allergy outbreaks, most areas are seeing above-average pollen levels.

Tree Pollen

From warm spring temperatures in March and April through the summer, tree pollen has been above average, particularly in the Great region. Those living in the areas near Chicago, Minneapolis, and Detroit are likely feeling the impact, along with people living in eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and north Idaho, according to forecasts at AccuWeather.

People living in the Southwest got a brief reprieve from tree pollen this year due to drought and extremely high temperatures.

Grasses and Weeds

The Southwest has been spared much of the allergy effects from grasses and winds this year. When grasses and weeds dry out in hot conditions and there is limited rainfall, it stunts grasses and weeds, according to meteorologist Alan Reppert.

Grass pollen in the Southeast, by comparison, is well above typical levels, along with weed pollen. For states bordering the Eastern seaboard, researchers expect weed and grass pollen to continue to remain high well into late August.

Confusing Allergies and COVID?

One of the things doctors are also seeing this year is some confusion about allergy symptoms and early warning signs of COVID-19. Seasonal allergy symptoms can present with some of the same symptoms associated with coronavirus. Congestion, stuffy nose, feeling ill, and even the loss of smell may send more people searching online to check symptoms or seek medical attention than normal.

These symptoms can be present for those exhibiting symptoms of allergies or COVID:

  • Cough
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Running Nose
  • Sneezing

Skin rashes and chest pains are rare for either condition but have presented themselves at times. One significant difference is fever. Allergies don’t cause fevers, while COVID symptoms are typically accompanied by a fever. Likewise, allergies typically include itchy eyes or nose while COVID patients do not.

More commonly, doctors say they see patients with colds or the flu that think they may have COVID-related symptoms. Healthcare providers say if you’re not sure, you should always let a medical professional check you out. If you don’t normally have allergy symptoms, but you seem to be suffering this year, you should also get a check-up.

Avoiding Allergens

Experts say if you are trying to avoid allergens but still want to get outside, a good time to do so is right after it rains. Rain tends to beat down the pollen, so there are fewer airborne particles. When storms are moving into the area, the opposite can happen. Storms tend to stir up pollen and increase the amount in the air.

Another suggestion is to get outside during the early morning hours before plants and flowers start to bloom in the daylight.

Keeping windows closed can help. If you’re running the air conditioning during the summer, make sure you have clean AC filters and consider getting a filter with higher HEPA ratings for better filtration of allergens and minute particles.

Over-the-Counter vs. Prescription Allergy Medications

Many people find they can survive allergy season by taking over-the-counter medications, such as mild antihistamines or OTC medications such as Zyrtec, Allegra, and Claritin. These target specific receptors in your body and require regular doses. Some allergy sufferers also find relief using antihistamine nasal sprays like Afrin and Flonase.

For those suffering year-round or needing more robust protection against allergies, they may need prescription allergy medications to avoid the worst effects.

Fortunately, you can get an online prescription refill for allergy medications or other medication without having to call your doctor and make an office visit. Due to better internet connections and smartphones, more people than ever are using telemedicine to get diagnosed, treated, and get refills.

The heavy pollen season may make the bees happy. Honey bees collect pollen for protein and use it as a food source for developing larvae. For the rest of us, we have to grin and bear it.