Types of Allergies

Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal allergies, like other allergies, develop when the body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to something in the environment that typically causes no problem in most people.

Common Seasonal Allergy Triggers

If you sneeze and cough, or your nose and eyes itch and are runny during certain times of the year, you may have seasonal allergies. Grass, pollen and mold are the most common triggers of seasonal allergies.

In many areas of the United States, spring allergies begin in February and last until the early summer. Mild winter temperatures can cause plants to pollinate early. A rainy spring can also promote rapid plant growth and lead to an increase in mold, causing symptoms to last well into the fall.

While the timing and severity of an allergy season vary across the country, the following climate factors also can influence how bad your symptoms might be:

  • Tree, grass and ragweed pollens thrive during cool nights and warm days.
  • Molds grow quickly in heat and high humidity.
  • Pollen levels tend to peak in the morning hours.
  • Rain washes pollen away, but pollen counts can soar after rainfall.
  • On a day with no wind, airborne allergens are grounded.
  • When the day is windy and warm, pollen counts surge.
  • Moving to another climate to avoid allergies is usually not successful — allergens are virtually everywhere.

The most common culprit for fall allergies is ragweed, a plant that grows wild almost everywhere, but especially on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Ragweed blooms and releases pollen from August to November. In many areas of the country, ragweed pollen levels are highest in mid-September.

Other plants that trigger fall allergies include:

  • Burning bush
  • Cocklebur
  • Lamb’s-quarters
  • Pigweed
  • Sagebrush and mugwort
  • Tumbleweed and Russian thistle

Seasonal Allergy Management and Treatment

Know your triggers. You may think you know that pollen is causing your suffering, but other substances may be involved as well. More than two-thirds of spring allergy sufferers actually have year-round symptoms. An allergist can help you find the source of your suffering and stop it, not just treat the symptoms.

Work with your allergist to devise strategies to avoid your triggers:

  • Monitor pollen and mold counts. Weather reports in newspapers and on radio and television often include this information during allergy seasons.
  • Keep windows and doors shut at home and in your car during allergy season.
  • Stay inside midday and during the afternoon, when pollen counts are highest.
  • Take a shower, wash your hair and change your clothes after you’ve been working or playing outdoors.
  • Wear a NIOSH-rated 95 filter mask when mowing the lawn or doing other chores outdoors, and take appropriate medication beforehand.

Your allergist may also recommend one or more medications to control symptoms. Some of the most widely recommended drugs are available without a prescription (over the counter); others, including some nose drops, require a prescription.

If you have a history of prior seasonal problems, allergists recommend starting medications to alleviate symptoms two weeks before they are expected to begin.

One of the most effective ways to treat seasonal allergies linked to pollen is immunotherapy (allergy shots). These injections expose you over time to gradual increments of your allergen, so you learn to tolerate it rather than reacting with sneezing, a stuffy nose or itchy, watery eyes.

Seasonally Related Triggers

While the term “seasonal allergies” generally refers to grass, pollen and mold, there is a different group of allergy triggers that are closely tied to particular seasons. Among them:

  • Smoke (campfires in summer, fireplaces in winter)
  • Insect bites and stings (usually in spring and summer)
  • Chlorine in indoor and outdoor swimming pools
  • Candy ingredients (Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter)
  • Pine trees and wreaths (Thanksgiving to Christmas)

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