When pollen levels are high, keep the windows closed and use air conditioning to filter your home. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

About 35 million people in the U.S. are allergic to pollen, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

That’s a lot of itchy noses and watery eyes.

And that means this spring, there are going to be a lot of people complaining about both.

Across Michigan, allergists expect to see high pollen counts sneaking in very soon, said Ted Kelbel, MD, section chief of allergy and immunology at Spectrum Health.

The allergy season will kick into high gear as soon as the trees start to bud.

“Springtime pollen levels can be very high,” Dr. Kelbel said. “We have large amounts of pollen produced by trees, weeds and grasses throughout the season. Many will begin to bloom as soon as the weather warms up a bit.”

Pollen can travel about 80 miles once it’s airborne, so you can get hit from a long way away, too, Dr. Kelbel said.

Allergy symptoms can be accompanied by sneezing, nasal drip and throat clearing.

“Think sneezing and itching sensations,” Dr. Kelbel said.

Remedies that work

You don’t have to suffer through miserable symptoms, and there are even some useful ways to help you avoid exposure to pollen:

  • Keep windows closed on days with high pollen levels and use air conditioning to filter the air in your home.
  • If you know you’re going to be outside for the day, proactively take an over-the-counter antihistamine.
  • If you’ve been outside mowing the lawn, take a shower and change your clothes. Pollen will stick to you and you’ll carry back inside the house.
  • If antihistamine doesn’t work, try a nasal rinse.

When it comes to medications, there are first- and second-generation antihistamines. The second-generation medications make you less drowsy, Dr. Kelbel said.

“If you find a medicine that works, you can stick with it,” he said. “These medications are safe and inexpensive, so you can try different brands until you find the right one.”

If symptoms persist, nasal steroid sprays are available over the counter. They can control symptoms a little better.

“With nasal sprays, you need to take it every day,” Dr. Kelbel said. “They don’t work as well intermittently.”

If that doesn’t work well, you can talk to your doctor about other treatment options. You could even consider allergy testing, he said.

Cold, or allergies?

While both an allergy and a cold may lead to sneezing and feeling run-down, there are differences between the two, Dr. Kelbel said.

Here’s what your symptoms may indicate:

  • Hacking cough, sore throat, aches and pains—Cold
  • Itchy eyes, nose, roof of the mouth or throat—Allergy
  • Stuffy nose, cloudy or discolored mucous—Cold
  • Sinus pressure, drippy nose, clear mucous—Allergy
  • Low-grade fever, chest discomfort—Cold
  • Headache behind the eyes or whole head—Cold
  • Sinus headache (face)—Cold
  • Symptoms last three to 14 days—Cold
  • Follows a pattern or persists—Allergy

Bottom line: Kids and adults shouldn’t have to suffer with allergies, Dr. Kelbel said.

“If allergies are getting in the way of you enjoying the beautiful spring weather, there’s a lot that we can do to help improve your health,” he said. “We want to get you back out there playing sports, going on hikes and enjoying the Michigan summer.”