You know the basics on how to avoid becoming a sniveling, sneezing, snot-filled mess once allergy season rolls around: You take your meds before your symptoms crank up, you keep the windows closed, and you avoid exercising outside when the pollen count is high.
So why do you still feel crappy? Turns out, you might unknowingly be doing something—or a combination of little things—that might actually be making your symptoms worse.
There are plenty of small, everyday behaviors that don’t seem like they’d be related to spring allergies. But they can exacerbate the itching, sneezing, congestion, and other problems that are making you miserable.
Here are 6 to watch out for, plus what you should be doing instead.
REASON YOUR ALLERGIES ARE WORSE: YOU WENT OUT DRINKING.
It’s no secret that alcohol can leave you feeling fuzzy and tired. But that’s not all. In some people, it can trigger also symptoms that feel a lot like allergies—including hives and wheezing, explains Clifford Bassett, M.D., author of The New Allergy Solution.
The symptoms are triggered by histamines and sulfites, which are found in most drinks and can be irritating to some, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. So if you’re already sneezing and itching due to spring allergies, it’ll only leave you feeling worse.
Experts can’t say for sure how much wine, beer, or liquor is okay to consume during allergy season. One Danish study found that women who drank two or more glasses of wine daily were almost twice as likely to experience seasonal allergies compared to those who didn’t drink. But there haven’t been any similar studies in guys.
So if you notice that your symptoms seem worse after a drink or two, consider cutting out the alcohol. If you feel better, it might be worth staying dry until allergy season winds down.
REASON YOUR ALLERGIES ARE WORSE: YOU MADE YOUR BED.
Here’s a gross fact: Your bed is home to millions of invisible dust mites (and pet dander, if you have a dog or cat) that can trigger allergy symptoms. Sleeping in bed exposes you to all that nasty gunk for hours, so when you wake up in the morning, your symptoms are especially bad, says David Stukus, M.D., a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
Making your bed in the morning means that all that stuff stays inside the sheets all day, so it’s still there when you come back the next night. But leaving your bed unmade helps your sheets air out and reduces the number of dust mites, found one British study.
Using dust mite-proof covers on your mattress, box spring, and pillows is also important, Dr. Stukus says. (Dust mites that are already inside your pillows or mattress can’t penetrate the tightly woven fabric, so your exposure to the mites is minimized.)
But don’t skimp on this hygienic habit: doing your laundry. Washing your sheets at least once a week in hot water will kill dust mites and keep other allergens from building up, too.
REASON YOUR ALLERGIES ARE WORSE: YOU PUT PRODUCT IN YOUR HAIR.
You might not think a swipe of gel or wax has much to do with your allergies. But pollen is sticky and can easily get stuck in the strands of your hair, especially if you have goop in it.
Putting gooey products in your hair only attracts more pollen, Dr. Bassett explains. So you’re literally carrying allergens around on your head all day.
Try to go product-free on days when the pollen count is high, or at least wear a hat when you’re outside to keep more pollen off of your hair, recommends Dr. Bassett. And consider taking showers at night instead of in the morning, so you can wash away any pollen that’s accumulated in your hair throughout the day. That’ll minimize nighttime symptoms and help you sleep better.
REASON YOUR ALLERGIES ARE WORSE: YOU ATE FRUIT SALAD.
It’s not your imagination—your allergy symptoms really can get worse after you eat certain foods.
“Some fruits and vegetables contain proteins that are very similar to the proteins that cause people with hay fever to itch and sneeze,” Dr. Stukus explains. (So eating these foods would likely cause symptoms for you year-round, not just during allergy season.)
The fruits and vegetables that affect you depend on what you’re allergic to. Oranges and tomatoes can trigger symptoms in people with grass pollen allergies. If you’re allergic to birch pollen, apples and cherries might bother you.
You don’t necessarily have to steer clear of the offending foods all spring, though. Cooking the fruits or vegetables neutralizes the irritating proteins, so they won’t trigger symptoms, says Dr. Stukus. Peeling raw fruits and vegetables might even be enough to keep symptoms at bay, since the proteins are found mainly in the skin.
REASON YOUR ALLERGIES ARE WORSE: YOU WORE YOUR CONTACTS.
Contact lenses can trap dust and pollen right up against your eyes, leaving them extra itchy and irritated.
Allergies also cause the inner lining of the eyelid to swell and become bumpy. Those bumps create friction when they rub against your lenses, making you even more uncomfortable, Dr. Bassett explains.
That’s why glasses are your best bet when your allergies are bad. If you’d still rather wear contacts, talk to your eye doctor about switching to daily disposable lenses, Dr. Bassett recommends. Wearing a fresh pair each day means fewer pollen proteins will get a chance to build up on your lenses and irritate your eyes.
Wear sunglasses when you’re outside, too, says Dr. Bassett. That’ll block some of the pollen from getting into your eyes in the first place.
REASON YOUR ALLERGIES ARE WORSE: YOU STRESS OUT.
Feeling tense or anxious won’t trigger your allergy symptoms, but they are linked to more frequent flare-ups, found one Ohio State University study.
Stress can affect your overall health by hindering your sleep, making it harder to cope with challenges (like symptom-related discomfort), and lowering your quality of life.
“Any or all of these combined can make allergy symptoms worse over time, or lead to more frequent episodes of intense symptoms,” Dr. Stukus says.
Anything that helps you manage your stress will make it easier to cope with your symptoms—and help you feel better overall, he says. Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and meditating can all help. But even little things like singing along to your favorite song in the shower or listening to a friend tell a funny story can make a difference.