Anyone who has experienced seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever, knows that it can be an annoying, irritating, and unpleasant experience. Seasonal allergies are common and may affect any person regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or health status. Seasonal allergic rhinitis (the medical term for seasonal allergies) affects 10–30% of adults and up to 40% of children in the U.S.
The most common cause of seasonal allergies are pollens from wind-pollinated plants such as trees, weeds, and grasses.
The symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:
- Runny nose and/or nasal congestion
- Itchy nose, throat, eyes, and ears
- Red, puffy, and watery eyes
- Fatigue, headache, and excess phlegm
Many of these symptoms may mimic those of the common cold or even COVID-19 infection, but the difference is that allergies are not caused by a virus. Despite the nickname “hay fever,” fever is not a normal symptom of allergies. Also, unlike other viral illnesses, allergy symptoms often last longer—usually more than one or two weeks.
Seasonal allergies occur when the body’s immune system recognizes an allergen, such as pollen or mold, as potentially dangerous and produces an overreactive response to them. When your body first recognizes the allergen as an intruder, your body begins to produce allergic antibodies to that specific allergen. When your body is exposed to the same allergen, the allergic antibodies start off a cascade of reactions that result in the release of a substance called histamine. When histamine comes in contact with our mucous membranes, we begin experiencing symptoms of allergies.
Allergies have a genetic component and can often run in families. Allergies are a part of an “atopic triad,” or three conditions that often occur together: allergies, asthma, and atopic dermatitis (eczema).
Here are a few tips on how to prevent or minimize allergy symptoms:
- Check your local pollen levels and pollen forecasts
- Avoid or minimize your time outside when pollen levels are high
- Close doors and windows when pollen levels are high
- Avoid outdoor activities early in the mornings when pollen levels tend to be highest
- Try to perform outdoor activities in late afternoons
- Stay indoors on dry and/or windy days (the best time to be outside is after rain which helps to clear the pollen from the air)
- Avoid or delegate gardening chores
- Remove clothing you wear outside to reduce pollen exposure at home/office
- Take a shower after being outdoors to remove pollen from skin and hair
- Don’t hang laundry outside
- Brush or wash your pets after they were outside to remove pollen from them
- Use a humidifier if the indoor air is dry
- Clean the floor and surfaces at your house more often during allergy seasons
- Make sure your home and car AC filters are changed or cleaned regularly
- Vacuum with a HEPA filter and consider placing HEPA filter air purifiers in your house
- Wear a mask outside
Following some of these prevention tips may be quite effective in providing relief from allergy symptoms. However, if symptoms persist, your healthcare provider may advise you to take specific medications to help with your symptoms.
Allergy medications and supplements work primarily by blocking the body’s pathways that promote the production and release of excess histamine. The most common medications include nasal allergy sprays (e.g., cromolyn), oral antihistamines (e.g., cetirizine, fexofenadine, and loratadine), nasal and oral decongestants (e.g., oxymetazoline, phenylephrine, and pseudoephedrine), or combination medications.
There is also some evidence that certain natural supplements may relieve allergy symptoms. Some of the most commonly used alternative treatments include bromelain, butterbur, quercetin, stinging nettles, and vitamin C.
Always speak with your healthcare provider to determine if your symptoms are due to seasonal allergies or a viral illness. It is important to speak to your healthcare provider before taking medications and/or supplements for seasonal allergies and to check for medication interactions.