People who enjoy relief from allergy symptoms during the cold winter are often afraid of the return of spring. What ensues is an explosion of pollen from trees, grasses and weeds, which can trigger allergic rhinitis (hay fever).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 8 percent of U.S. adults (20 million) and more than 7 percent of children (6 million) experience seasonal allergies.
Symptoms of spring allergies include:
- stuffy nose
- runny nose
- itchy, watery eyes
- itchy mouth or throat
- Difficulty breathing
- tightness in the chest
The CDC reports that children between the ages of 12 and 17 are particularly vulnerable. In addition, seasonal allergies may increase the incidence or severity of respiratory symptoms in adults and children with asthma.
Allergies and Asthma in Four Seasons
Common Spring Allergens
An allergen is any substance that causes an abnormal immune response, during which the body fights off a perceived threat that would otherwise be harmless.
Pollen released by trees and other plants in spring is a common allergen. Pollen is the core of plant reproduction and is easily inhaled as fine powdery particles that float in the air.
In the United States, the trees most commonly associated with allergic rhinitis include:
- western red cedar
In late spring, grass pollen is the culprit and can include:
- Bermuda grass
- orchard grass
- red top grass
- sweet spring grass
- Timothy Grass
In contrast, allergens such as ragweed are more common in summer.
Mold spores are also a common cause of allergies, starting in the spring and continuing through the fall.Outdoor mold includes Alternaria, Cladosporiumand Euphorbia.
What to know about pollen allergies
Many people don’t need a doctor to confirm that the rapid sneezing and watery eyes they experience during the first buds of spring are due to seasonal allergies. If they do see a doctor and explain their symptoms, the doctor may also not need to perform a test to confirm the diagnosis.
That being said, if allergy symptoms persist despite treatment, you may want to have your doctor check for other causes or contributing factors. This is especially true if you have severe breathing problems.
Severe cases may require referral to an allergist to identify specific allergens. With this information, an allergist may be able to prescribe allergy shots to moderate the immune response.
Medications are often used to relieve seasonal allergy symptoms or to moderate the body’s response to airborne allergens.
Among the options:
- Oral antihistamines work by inhibiting histamine, a chemical produced by the body that triggers allergy symptoms.
- Nasal decongestants are over-the-counter (OTC) products available in oral, liquid, spray, and nasal drop formulations. They provide short-term relief by constricting the blood vessels in the nose.
- Regular and prescription-strength nasal steroid sprays work by reducing swelling and mucus production in the nasal passages.
- Eye drops can be used to treat eye allergy symptoms. Options include short-term OTC drops containing topical decongestants or prescription drops that combine antihistamines and mast cell inhibitors.
In addition to medication, some people use a neti pot to help flush and open blocked nasal passages.
How to use a neti pot
While there are few ways to completely avoid allergens in the spring (or at any time, for that matter), there are some precautions you can take to minimize exposure:
- Know your pollen count. Check your local weather forecast or the National Allergy Service website for daily pollen counts and a breakdown of the type of pollen or mold.
- Stay indoors during high counts. If you must go outdoors, do so later in the day when crowds are usually lower.
- Use an air purifier with a HEPA filter. These are designed to remove airborne particles. Close windows and use air conditioning if needed.
- Close the windows while driving. Close vents, recirculate indoor air or use an air conditioner.
- Vacuum and dust frequently. “Pet-friendly” vacuums usually do the best job of absorbing pollen and other allergens like dander.
- Shower before bed. Whenever you are outdoors, your body and hair collect a surprising amount of pollen. Also, be sure to wash off any clothes you wear as soon as possible.
- Avoid drying clothes outdoors. When wearing clothes later, pollen can easily settle in the fibers and trigger symptoms.
How allergies affect your mood and energy levels
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are my allergies so bad in the spring?
Spring allergies can often be traced back to tree and grass pollen. Tree pollen allergies tend to occur early in the season. Tree pollen is most abundant when the tree first begins to sprout. When you see the yellow-green fine dust film covering the surface, you can tell that the tree pollen count is high.
Grass pollen allergies are more prominent in late spring and throughout the summer. Grass pollen is produced when grass grows taller, with tips that resemble feather-like flowers, also known as “seeds.”
If I am allergic to grass, am I allergic to all grasses?
No, most people with grass allergies only react to certain types of grass pollen. Grass allergies are usually caused by Bermuda grass, bluegrass, orchard grass, red top grass, sweet spring grass or timothy grass. You may be allergic to one or more grasses.
If someone has a grass allergy, can they still mow the lawn?
It depends on the degree of allergy and the specific type of grass. If you have a grass allergy, you can take precautions when mowing your lawn. For example, wearing an N95 mask or other face covering and goggles while mowing the lawn can provide some protection. Also, taking an antihistamine before mowing the lawn can help prevent serious reactions.
If you suspect a grass allergy, discuss allergy testing with your doctor. You may be allergic to some types of grass pollen but to others.