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April 2003

Stop Your Sniffling: Allergy Advice

Don't let itchy eyes and a sneeze-machine nose ruin your hike. Here's our guide to keeping allergies at bay.

> Trees release billions of pollen cells in early spring, often before leaves appear.

> Molds can release spores for much of the year if their habitat remains moist.

Short of searching the trail for pollen, specific grasses, or those wispy feathers from pollinating cottonwood trees, there’s not much you can do to assess allergen levels on your chosen route. You can check daily pollen counts at the National Pollen Network (, but “your eyes and nose will probably tell you first,” says

Dr. Taylor.

If you get caught hiking in the wrong season, try one of these trail-proven tricks to mitigate your allergy symptoms.

> Time hikes for mornings, when plant pollens are heavy with dew.

> Sit tight when the wind blows. “Breezy days are going to be worse,” says Richard Honsinger, Ph.D., a clinical professor at the University of New Mexico, “because pollens can drift in the wind for hundreds of miles.”

> Pick trails and tent sites above treeline. You’ll find the fewest irritants on rocky terrain.

> Find a lake and pitch camp on the downwind side. The water may collect allergens as the wind blows them across, says Kim Spence, M.D., a family physician and backpacker based in Carbondale, CO.

> Avoid the irritants completely. If you’re allergic to juniper, head east into forests of oak and elm. Does hickory make you sneeze? Hike in Washington’s Olympic National Park.

> Load up on antihistamines. Nondrowsy drugs such as Allegra, Claritin (available over-the-counter this spring), and even the asthma medication Singulair can work wonders in stopping allergy symptoms. Ask your doctor.

> Try saltwater. Caught in the woods without your meds? Flushing your eyes and nose with saline removes the allergens and can dramatically improve your symptoms, says Dr. Spence.

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