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How to Manage Allergies When You’re Already Short of Breath

COPD Basics

May 24, 2024

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Photography by Kara Riley/Stocksy United

Photography by Kara Riley/Stocksy United

by Elizabeth Pratt


Medically Reviewed by:

Angelica Balingit, MD


by Elizabeth Pratt


Medically Reviewed by:

Angelica Balingit, MD


Seasonal allergies can make COPD symptoms worse. Avoiding allergens like pesky pollen can help.

The sun is shining, birds are chirping, and flowers are blooming. It’s a warm, pleasant day. But tiny pollen spores are flying through the air, ready to wreak havoc.

Seasonal allergies can be pretty miserable for anybody and may cause nasal congestion and watery eyes. And when you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), seasonal allergens can be even more problematic.

But there are steps you can take to help manage seasonal triggers that could make your COPD worse.

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What are allergens that trigger COPD?

The allergens that can trigger an increase in COPD symptoms don’t only exist in spring. Allergy symptoms can happen all year round and can be triggered by different things.

When you hear someone talk about hay fever, they’re referring to a reaction to an allergen like pollen. Hay fever, which may also be called allergic rhinitis, affects up to 60 million people in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Pollen is a pesky little grain produced by plants. Multiple types of pollen can cause allergy symptoms. Here are some of the most common forms that can be problematic.

Grass pollen

In the United States, grass pollen may cause symptoms between April and early June, according to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA). Hay fever symptoms from grass pollen may worsen COPD symptoms such as coughing and wheezing.

If you live in a warmer area, you might find that grass pollen can trigger symptoms all year long. And sometimes, grass pollen season can overlap with the seasons for other types of pollen allergens.

The pollen from grass is light and can travel in the wind. This means that even if the grass in your backyard doesn’t affect you, grass from another location could travel with the breeze and cause symptoms.

Tree pollen

Tree pollen is the first seasonal allergen to appear each year in the United States. Tree pollen season often overlaps with grass pollen season in late spring and parts of summer.

In the United States, pollen from trees is usually most problematic from February through May, with the peak of pollen season from trees being March through May, according to the AAFA. But if you live in the South, pollen from trees can be an issue as early in the year as January.

Some trees, such as pine trees, produce a type of pollen you can see in the form of a yellow dust that coats surfaces outdoors. But other trees produce pollen that is so small you won’t be able to see it.

Like pollen from grass, tree pollen flies through the air and can be inhaled or get into your eyes.


The AAFA estimates that nearly 50 million people in the United States experience symptoms due to ragweed pollen from July through November. Typically, ragweed pollen season peaks in mid-September and lasts until October.

Ragweed is a type of weed that can grow throughout the country but is most common in Eastern and Midwestern states. The AAFA lists Alaska as the only state that doesn’t have ragweed.

A single ragweed plant can make 1 billion pollen grains. Warm weather, wind, and humidity help release the ragweed pollen. Symptoms from ragweed pollen can range from mild to severe.

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Tips for managing allergy seasons

Taking steps to manage seasonal allergy triggers is important to help avoid exacerbations (flare-ups) of COPD and breathing difficulties. Seasonal allergies don’t just happen in the spring, and you should be vigilant all year round to try to avoid unpleasant symptoms.

To manage potential seasonal allergens, you can try some of these tips from the AAFA and the American College of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology (ACAAI).

1. Check the pollen count before going outside

If you plan to go outside and you want to avoid allergy symptoms, head to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s National Allergy Bureau. This tool can give you accurate information about pollen levels across the country. The ACAAI recommends wearing a mask when mowing the lawn or doing other outdoor chores.

2. Keep windows and doors shut

Pollen can fly through the air, even from far away. Keep doors and windows shut when possible to prevent these tiny pollen particles from entering your home.

3. Change your clothes

If you’ve been outside on a day when pollen is high, change your clothes as soon as you arrive home and place the clothes you wore outside in a covered hamper or another container. It’s also a good idea to take off your shoes before going inside. This will help reduce pollen spread in your home.

4. Plan ahead

The pollen counts are typically highest from the late morning to the afternoon. Consider staying indoors during this time, with the windows and doors closed.

5. Cover up

To avoid inhaling pollen or to stop it from getting into your eyes, consider wearing a mask, a broad-brimmed hat, and wraparound sunglasses when you’re outside.

6. Shower

If you’ve been outdoors, it can be a good idea to take a shower when you get home to remove pollen spores from your body and hair.

7. Apply petroleum jelly

Putting a small amount of petroleum jelly at the base of your nose can be a great way to trap pollen and avoid inhaling it when you’re outdoors. But if you’re using home oxygen therapy, you should not do this.

8. Clean your nose

Check with your doctor to see whether a saltwater solution or nasal spray could help clear your nasal passages of pollen.

9. Follow your treatment plan

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment options for seasonal allergies. Antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays, eye drops, decongestants, and immunotherapy are possible options.

10. Consider getting an allergy-friendly HVAC filter

Just because the pollen is outdoors doesn’t mean it won’t travel inside. If you have indoor allergies, you’ve probably heard that getting a high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filter may help. Allergists often suggest adding these filters to your HVAC system and vacuum to capture irritating allergens in the air.


Seasonal allergies can happen all year round and be caused by different types of pollen. Pollen allergens may make your COPD symptoms worse and even make it more difficult to breathe. Taking steps to avoid pollen exposure and limit the amount of pollen that comes into your home can make seasonal allergens a bit easier to manage.

Always check with your doctor before trying any new treatment, lifestyle change, or adjustment to your routine for COPD care.

Medically reviewed on May 24, 2024

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About the author

Elizabeth Pratt

Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist based in Australia. She has a master’s degree in health communication and has worked across all forms of media. Her work has appeared in a variety of outlets like the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Huffington Post, Fox News, Salon, The Sydney Morning Herald, Escape, and Theravive. When she’s not writing stories, you’ll find her in her yellow armchair, planning her next trip. Connect with her on Twitter.

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