Posted by Kunal Shah, M.D.
April 25, 2013
Millions of Americans suffer from allergic rhinitis, often called seasonal allergies or hay fever – although the condition is almost never caused by hay and doesn’t involve an actual fever.
Hay fever develops when an allergic person inhales pollen. The pollen then causes the body to release antibodies that can cause itching, swelling and mucus production.
The pollens that cause hay fever vary from person to person and by geographical location. Very few people are actually allergic to the heavy pollen from flowers, which is carried by bees and other insects. It’s the tiny microscopic pollens that cause hay fever and can generally be summed up by the four seasons.
Seasonal Pollen Allergies
- Spring – Tree pollen
The pollens from trees are light and dry – perfect for floating on the wind and being inhaled into your nose or becoming stuck in your eye. Trees such as maple, elm, oak and cottonwood are some of the biggest culprits.
- Summer – Grass pollen
Grass pollen begins in the late spring and continues to cause problems for allergy sufferers throughout the summer. Hot, dry, windy days are more likely to increase amounts of pollen in the air.
- Fall – Weed pollen
Ragweed is one of the most common allergens in the United States and its season begins in late summer and continues until the first hard frost.
- Winter – Mold
While pollen isn’t really a factor in the winter months, mold and other allergens can be. Mold spores, pet dander and dust mites tend to be more of an issue for allergy sufferers in the winter months. This is because we spend more time indoors and are exposed to more of those allergens for a greater period of time.
Preventing Seasonal Allergies
The best way to prevent seasonal allergies is to avoid allergens as much as possible.
- Keep windows closed.
- Use air conditioning in your house and car.
- Minimize morning outdoor activity – pollen counts are highest in the morning.
- Stay indoors during dry, windy days.
- Use a dehumidifier in your home.
- Use an allergy-grade filter in your ventilation system.
- Change your clothes and wash your hands and face when coming inside.
- Don’t hang your laundry outside.
- Wear a dust mask when doing outdoor activities.
Seasonal Allergy Treatments
When avoidance is not enough, allergy treatments include pills, eye drops, nasal sprays and immunotherapy, which is a group of allergy injections given over a period of a few years. Immunotherapy can be very effective: 80 to 90 percent of patients have fewer symptoms and often the allergies are completely resolved.
If allergies are causing problems in everyday life functions, or if you are not responding to over-the-counter medications, you don’t have to continue to suffer. An allergist can evaluate whether you have seasonal allergies and determine the best way to treat them – allowing you to enjoy the summer, sniffle-free.