Allergy symptoms plague millions of Americans every spring. It’s no surprise that antihistamines, eye drops and cold compresses fly off the shelves from February to June. For many, these long months can feel like a lifetime.
Allergy season depends on the region of the United States. In most parts of the country, spring allergies begin in February and last through early summer. Common allergies are attributed to tree pollen, which occurs first. This process is followed by grass pollination in the summer, then ragweed in early fall.
Many confuse seasonal allergies with food allergies, though the two are extremely different. A food allergy is a reaction by the body to a certain nutrient or ingredient. Food allergies can be mild or serious, but they are usually controlled by choosing a diet that avoids the allergen. Seasonal allergies, however, are harder to avoid.
Some have allergy symptoms year-round, while others experience the sniffles during certain seasons. Allergists can typically pinpoint the direct cause of a specific allergic reaction by considering the time of year. For example, those with the worst allergy symptoms in late summer or early fall are likely allergic to ragweed.
The course of an allergy treatment regimen depends on a number of factors, including time of year and degree of seriousness. To learn more about allergies, symptoms, causes and treatment options, read the following topics below.
Common Causes of Seasonal Allergies
The most common allergies are seasonal, meaning they effect individuals during periods of pollination. There are various types of pollen that cause symptoms, and each type of pollen blooms in different periods throughout the year.
Birch pollen signifies the start of allergy season in many parts of the U.S. It is one of the most common airborne allergens in the spring. When birch trees begin to bloom, they release small pollen grains into the air. When the wind blows, the pollen scatters.
It is the single most common cause of seasonal allergies. One birch tree alone can release up to five million grains of pollen, which can travel more than 100 yards from the tree without heavy winds. Birch trees are prevalent across the U.S.
Oak trees also spur allergy symptoms in millions of Americans across the country. These trees also bloom in the spring and send pollen out into the communities with gusto.
Although oak pollen is considered just mildly allergenic compared to other forms of pollen, it tends to remain in the air for a longer duration of time. This extended life cycle can cause severe allergic reactions in certain individuals with pollen allergies.
Summer allergy season often begins with the pollination of grass. It is the main culprit of symptoms that arise in late June to August.
Grass pollen causes severe allergy symptoms that are notoriously difficult to treat. In some cases, allergy sufferers take shots and tablets to relieve their symptoms. Grass pollen lingers in the air during particularly humid days.
Ragweed is a type of weed that blooms in the late fall. In certain areas of the country, ragweed begins spreading its pollen as early as late July. Depending on wind patterns and other weather events, this type of pollen can spread hundreds of miles.
Hay Fever Allergy
Hay fever is not a cause of allergies but is a type of allergic disorder characterized by an exaggerated immune response to certain environmental factors. Hay fever is commonly mistaken for a common cold or the flu. Symptoms include runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing.
Allergy symptoms may present differently in in different allergy sufferers. However, there are a few key features of seasonal allergies, such as:
- Runny nose.
- Watery, itchy eyes.
- Nasal congestion.
- Sinus pressure.
- Scratchy throat.
- Swollen, bluish-colored skin beneath the eyes.
- Decreased sense of taste or smell.
- Increased asthmatic reactions.
Failing to follow an allergy treatment routine can worsen these symptoms and affect one’s daily life. Aside from being uncomfortable, allergy sufferers may miss school or work due to the symptoms.
A decreased sense of taste may reduce an individual’s appetite. This can impact his or her weight and cause a decrease in caloric intake. Having itchy or watery eyes also poses a risk to those who drive, as it can impact their vision.
Learn About Allergy Treatment
Allergy treatment begins with avoiding the allergen as much as possible. While difficult to avoid, allergy sufferers can minimize their exposure to pollen by:
- Staying indoors on dry, windy days.
- Closing outside doors and windows.
- Monitoring pollen counts, which are often shared on weather reports and in newspapers.
- Being aware of high-pollen times.
- During tree and grass pollen season, levels are highest in the evening. In late summer and early fall, during ragweed pollen season, levels are highest in the morning
Allergy medicine is the next step in a treatment routine. Allergy medications come in a variety of doses and formats. Before taking any medication, it is always recommended to consult a doctor or allergist to ensure safe practices.
Many over-the-counter medications reduce allergy symptoms and prevent the body from initiating an immune response. These include:
- Antihistamines, like Zyrtec or Benadryl.
- Decongestants, including pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or oxymetazoline (Afrin nasal spray).
- A combination of an antihistamine and a decongestant, like Claritin-D.
Some of these types of medication an effect sleep such as causing sleepiness or creating restlessness when it’s time to go to bed.
If allergy medicine is still not enough, some doctors recommend allergy shots. This form of immunotherapy includes injecting the allergen into the body in gradually higher amounts. The body’s immune system begins developing a resistance to it, and patients typically experience complete relief within one to three years.
Home remedies for allergies can also help eliminate or reduce symptoms. Allergy sufferers can begin a routine habit of flushing their nose to eliminate pollen. They can use a squeeze bottle or Neti pot to remove any pollen lining the nasal cavities.
Individuals suffering from allergies should always remove and wash any clothes worn outside before wearing them again. Pollen may stick to the fabric and irritate the sinuses.
Other home remedies for allergies include:
- Drying clothes in a machine dryer rather than hanging them outside on a clothing line.
- Using air conditioning in cars and homes.
- Using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter or dehumidifier.
- Vacuuming regularly with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter.