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Atchoo! How to tackle the pollen allergy season in Sweden

Pollen season is in full swing in Sweden, as allergy sufferers no doubt have noticed. To make your life easier, The Local has some handy tips for how to make it through the ordeal.

Atchoo! How to tackle the pollen allergy season in Sweden
Birch pollen season runs from April to June across most of Sweden. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Plan ahead

Planning won’t eliminate your suffering but it could go a long way towards reducing it.

Check the local pollen forecast on websites Pollenkoll or Pollenrapporten to find out well in advance when the worst days are likely to be, and if it’s possible to avoid being outdoors on those days, consider taking shelter.

Hot, windy days in particular are not your friend, as it’s then that the most pollen spreads in the air, while still, wet and cloudy days tend to be the most tolerable. But some people already start having issues with pollen while snow is still on the ground.

Staying indoors just because there’s a lot of pollen in the air may not be feasible of course, so perhaps it’s more realistic to limit your outdoor time to early mornings and late evenings on those days (dew binds to pollen in the mornings and evenings, reducing the amount in the air). You could also wear a mask with a pollen filter if you’re really badly affected and you need to go out during peak pollen times.

Above all, use the pollen forecasts to make sure that you start taking any medication with enough time in advance for it to kick in properly.

The Swedish names for the most common plants and trees causing pollen allergies are björk (birch), gräs (grass), gråbo (mugwort/wormwood), hassel (hazel), al (alder) and ek (oak).

Find the right medication

There is a long list of non-prescription medication available in Sweden that can be used to alleviate the symptoms of a pollen allergy.

The most common starting point is antihistamine tablets, but depending on the symptoms you may also want to use Cortisone nasal spray for congestion, and eye drops containing Chromones for runny eyes.

Medication won’t completely eliminate your symptoms, but it should ease them. If that doesn’t happen, it could be time to speak to a doctor. They can prescribe something stronger – including a course of anti-allergy vaccinations if they see fit – and perhaps more importantly test you to make sure it’s a pollen allergy you have in the first place and not something else (or a combination).

Good housekeeping

For allergy sufferers a clean house is a happier house, so make sure that’s the case as much as possible. Some vacuum cleaners have HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters that catch pollen and other particles, while changing bed sheets regularly will contribute to a better night’s sleep.

Simple acts like shutting vents when the pollen level is high and keeping your bedroom door closed during the day to minimise the spread of pollen from the rest of the house are also worthwhile. Keeping flowers indoors should be avoided, and if you have a garden, resist the temptation to cut the lawn, which increases the pollen in the air.

Adapt your routine

When there’s a high pollen count, make sure to take a shower, wash your hair, and immediately change your clothes when you come home – all of which should get rid of any pollen hanging around. It’s also best to dry your clothing indoors rather than outside, so it picks up less of the irritating particles.

If you have a pet, brush them regularly and in particular when they come indoors from the wider world. It’s also a good idea to get your exercise fix indoors rather than out when pollen levels are particularly high.

It’s thought that some foods can trigger symptoms in those who have pollen allergies (a phenomenon known as cross-reactions), with certain fruit and herbs some of the culprits, so consider reducing your intake of them – especially in combination – if you notice it triggering your allergy when the pollen season is at its worst.

Persistent congestion can be brutal and it it’s really bad, rinsing your nose with a saline solution can provide some quick relief – doing so before bed may aid sleep.

Finally, drinking plenty of water is a must, and hot fluids are one way of doing that while also benefiting from the clearing effects of steam, which will ease your blocked nose and breathing.

Article written in 2018 and updated in 2023.

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For members


How you can get your company in Sweden to pay for you to get a massage

Many Swedish companies offer their employees a tax-free 'friskvårdsbidrag' (health benefit or contribution) for "activities which incorporate some form of exercise" (like a gym membership) or "de-stressing or relaxing" activities, such as a massage.

How you can get your company in Sweden to pay for you to get a massage

How do I know if I get this benefit?

As a first point of call, you should check your job contract. If you have a kollektivavtal (collective bargaining agreement), there’s a good chance you also have friskvårdsbidrag, but this isn’t always the case.

If you can’t find anything about it in your job contract, try asking HR to see if there’s a particular company policy offering friskvårdsbidrag. One of the stipulations for the benefit is that it has to be offered to all the company’s employees, so if you know one of your colleagues has it, even if they’re in a different department, that means you have it too.

One important thing to note is that, although the maximum legal amount a company can offer is 5,000 kronor per year, some employers may offer a friskvårdsbidrag under this limit. So even if you do have this benefit, double check the amount you can get back with your HR department before you book an expensive gym membership or course of exercise.

What kind of activities does it cover?

Officially, friskvårdsbidrag covers activities “which include some form of exercise or other simple health activity which doesn’t include exercise but is, for example, de-stressing or relaxing”. So, it’s pretty broad, but there are still some exceptions.

You can’t, for example, use the contribution to buy or rent sports equipment (unless this rental fee is included in the activity, like a horse and saddle for horseriding, a bowling ball for bowling or rental of a canoe, for example). You can’t use it to pay your membership fees for a sports club either, although you can use it for a gym membership. Other off-limit options are theoretic courses, diplomas, or health or beauty treatments.

In terms of “de-stressing or relaxing” activities, these should cost no more than 1,000 kronor per visit, and activities such as massage or acupuncture are included, but not beauty-related spa treatments, like a skin treatment or facial.

You can also use it for courses to aid posture or movement (such as balance training), treatments designed to aid weight loss or to help quit smoking, and courses to help couples prepare for childbirth.

As a result of the pandemic, friskvårdsbidrag also applies to apps or other websites aiding exercise or some other healthy activity, and it doesn’t matter if you use this app or website at home or somewhere else, such as at the gym. Examples in this category include online yoga classes, weight loss programmes and programmes to help you quit smoking, digital apps or tools to register your own exercise, such as walks or runs, and apps for nutrition, counting steps or measuring your pulse.

How do I use it?

Each company will have a different process for processing friskvårdsbidrag, so the best thing to do is to contact your HR department before you pay for an activity to check the details first. Check if the activity you’re planning on using it for will count, and ask how to apply once you’ve completed the activity.

As a general rule, you’ll pay up-front and will be reimbursed once you submit a receipt or proof of payment to your employer, so make sure to keep track of your paperwork so you can get your money back, and make sure not to go over your maximum limit over the course of a year.

What happens if I don’t use the full amount?

Sweden’s Tax Agency stipulates that employers may only offer a maximum of 5,000 kronor per year in friskvårdsbidrag, so you usually won’t be able to roll over any unused money to the next year.

As a general rule, if you don’t use it, you lose it, but check with your employer what the policy is in your workplace to make sure you know what applies in your situation.

The Tax Agency does not allow friskvårdsbidrag to be exchanged for cash, so you won’t be able to cash in any unused funds at the end of the year, either.