Seasonal allergies are called ‘seasonal’ for a reason. It is because they appear at only certain specific times of the year. They are caused due to exposure to allergy triggering substances like pollen in the air. If you are someone who easily catches a seasonal allergy, you can look out for the different seasonal allergy symptoms. Once you know you are down with a seasonal allergy, it will be easier for you to treat it.
Seasonal allergies could make you miserable while they last. So it is good to know about the precautionary measures you can take to avoid catching a seasonal allergy altogether.
Causes of Seasonal Allergies
Seasonal allergies, or allergic rhinitis, happen when your immune system identifies an airborne substance as dangerous to itself, which otherwise might not be. These airborne substances are called allergens. Consequently, your body responds by releasing histamines and certain other chemicals into the bloodstream. These chemicals produce the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
The main kinds of allergens that cause a seasonal allergy are pollen and molds. Pollens fall in the category of external allergens whereas molds fall in the category of external and internal allergens.
Pollen grains aid flowering plants, trees, grass and weeds in reproducing by fertilizing the seeds of neighbouring plants. Pollens are abundantly present in the air mostly during the spring and fall season.
It’s the pollen from wind-pollinated plants such as trees, grass and weeds that are the main cause of seasonal allergies. Trees such as birch, cedar, elm and maple pollinate in spring season. Weeds such as ragweed, sagebrush and Russian thistle pollinate in summer and fall. While being carried by wind, pollen often finds its way into the eyes and nasal passage of human beings, triggering an allergic reaction.
Flowering plants, on the other hand, are mostly insect-pollinated and their pollens are too heavy to be carried by wind. Hence, they hardly ever come in contact with humans to cause an allergic reaction.
You might not catch a seasonal allergy by an external allergen during the winter season. But during winters, certain indoor allergens get active, mainly mold, pet dander and dust mites. Mold is spore that grows on dead leaves, grasses and rotting logs of wood but it could also be found indoors. Mold has a tendency to grow in air conditioners and refrigerators.
Why is Hay Fever a Misnomer?
Apart from allergic rhinitis and pollinosis, seasonal allergy is also known as hay fever. It is associated with the hay-cutting season in summers when the wind gets filled with hay. But hay fever is a misnomer because neither is it caused by hay nor does it produce a fever. Even then, seasonal allergies caused by pollen and mold are also commonly called as hay fever. Also, seasonal allergies that get triggered during summer season are majorly because of grasses like ryegrass and timothy grass.
Seasonal Allergy Symptoms to lookout for
Seasonal allergy symptoms could be mild to severe. They consist of sneezing, sore throat, nasal congestion, clogged ears, irritability, hoarseness, watery eyes and wheezing. You may experience itching in eyes, ears or nose. Although it’s possible that you may develop itching all over the body and you may even develop hives. Seasonal allergy may also cause cough, headache and fatigue. Some people may even experience swelling on their face, especially eyes and lips.
Seasonal allergies are bound to cause nasal inflammation. This can cause blockage in the sinus drainage which may provide a safe place for bacteria to grow and cause infection. That is why the chances of catching a chronic sinus infection are quite high if you have a seasonal allergy.
You tend to experience these symptoms because your immune system is fighting off substances that your body considers as invaders. Your body produces antibodies to fight off the foreign invaders while producing symptoms characteristic of an allergic reaction.
Your body may produce symptoms of allergic reaction at any age although they generally appear in childhood itself. But they can very well appear in adulthood as well. Although with age, the symptoms get less and less severe.
People who are allergic to weed pollen have been often found to develop other allergies as well over time. They may even develop asthma issues. If you are someone who has hay fever and asthma, coming in contact with a seasonal allergen may trigger an asthma attack.
One way to reduce the chances of this happening is to go through immunotherapy. This involves getting allergy shots over many years so that your body develops immunity towards the allergens you are allergic to.
Difference between Seasonal Allergy Symptoms and Common Cold
Seasonal allergy symptoms are often the same as the symptoms of common cold. But actually a seasonal allergic reaction is quite different from common cold. Although they both cause a runny nose with watery discharge, but unlike common cold, hay fever never causes actual fever. Rather in case of common cold you may even get yellow mucus discharge from your nose.
In case of common cold the symptoms begin to show about 3 days after you got exposed to the virus causing the cold. But in case of a seasonal allergy, the symptoms show up almost immediately from the point of contact with the allergen. Also, seasonal allergy symptoms stay for as long as you are in contact with the substance you are allergic to. But a common cold subsides within 3-5 days.
Things You Can Do To Manage Your Seasonal Allergy
There are some very simple measures that you can take to manage your seasonal allergy. Taking these measures will reduce your chances of coming in contact with seasonal allergens in the first place.
The very first thing to do in that direction is to identify the kind of pollen or mold you are allergic to. You can do this either by observing the seasons in which you catch the allergy at the highest frequency. Like, if you are falling ill multiple times during the spring season and you live in an area where birch trees grow in abundance, then you might be allergic to birch pollen.
Otherwise, you can simply get an allergy test done by a doctor. It could be a skin-prick test or a blood test. In the skin-prick test, the doctor will prick the skin on your arm or upper back with different allergens. He will then observe which allergens are causing an allergic reaction.
A blood test finds out the response of your immune system to a particular allergen. It measures the amount of allergy-causing antibodies in your blood in reaction to a particular allergen. You can follow this by reducing your exposure to these particular allergens.
It’s still easier to get rid of internal allergens from your personal environment and surroundings in comparison to external allergens. This could be done in many ways.
How to Get Rid of Internal Allergens
- You should wash your bed sheets with hot water, at least once in a week.
- You should regularly clean moldy surfaces and all such places in your home where mold may form. These may include air conditioners, refrigerators and swamp coolers.
- In case you have a pet, you should regularly brush your carpets and upholstered furniture of any pet dander.
- You may even use an air purifier to clean the air in your house. Or, you may use a dehumidifier to reduce excess moisture from it.
- You must regularly dust your furniture to get rid of any dust mites that might be present.
How to Reduce Exposure to External Allergens
- If you are allergic to pollen or weed and spring, summer or fall season is in full swing, avoid going out on dry windy days. If it is absolutely necessary, wear a dust or pollen mask before you step out.
- Avoid engaging in any activity that may trigger an allergic reaction, whether it’s lawn mowing, weed pulling or gardening.
- Avoid playing with your kids out in the garden if the air outside is loaded with pollen or weed.
- When you come back home from outside, take off your clothes and dust them. Also, take a shower to rinse your body of any pollen that may have got stuck on your skin or hair.
- You should avoid hanging your laundry outside during pollen season as it gets stuck to clothes, towels and sheets.
- You should not go for morning jogs or run in the morning when pollen count in the air is the highest
- If you are suspecting that seasonal allergy symptoms may occur, start taking anti allergy medications beforehand.
- You must keep your windows and doors tightly shut especially when high pollen counts have been forecasted.
How You Can Treat Your Seasonal Allergy Symptoms
If you will take proper precautions, you will be able to reduce your chances of falling prey to a seasonal allergic reaction in the first place. But even if you do catch a seasonal allergy, there are plenty of medications available to treat it. There are also a number of home remedies that may give you relief from your seasonal allergy symptoms.
There are multiple medicines designed to bind naturally with histamine, the protein responsible for reacting to the allergen. This helps in negating the effect of histamine. You can buy over-the-counter oral antihistamine drugs that will relieve the runny nose, sneezing, itchiness in and watering of the eyes. The most commonly used anti histamine drugs are Cetirizine, loratadine and fexofenadine.
To treat the congestion of the nose and ears, you can opt for decongestants. They come in the form of tablets and nasal sprays. Oral decongestants like pseudoephedrine provide relief from nasal blockage. Or, you can use oxymetazoline and phenylephrine that are nasal decongestants. But you must refrain from prolonged use of nasal decongestants. Using them continuously for more than a week can actually worsen your nasal congestion. It’s known as the rebounding effect and it could even take the form of chronic congestion.
You can even use corticosteroid nasal sprays or cromolyn sodium nasal sprays as they have fewer side effects.
There are also allergy medications now available that combine an antihistamine with a decongestant into a single tablet. The popular ones in this category are loratadine-pseudoephedrine and fexofenadine-pseudoephedrine. But people with high blood pressure advised not to take decongestants without a doctor’s prescription.
If you don’t want to take an oral or nasal decongestant, you can perhaps apply the nasal irrigation method. All you have to do is rinse your nasal passages with saline solution. This will flush out all the allergens and mucus from your nose, hydrating your nasal lining. It will give you immediate relief from your blocked nose and reduce changes of developing a chronic sinus infection.
Seasonal allergies also attack the eyes, sometimes even causing allergic conjunctivitis. The best way to treaty itchy watery eyes is to put clean eyewashes like artificial tears in the eyes. This works quite effectively to reduce irritation in the eyes. Eye drops work towards reducing inflammation and providing moisture to the eyes. Eye drops containing antihistamines and vasoconstrictor work very well. But eye drops containing corticosteroids work best if the symptoms are too severe.
Seasonal allergy symptoms are very common during spring, summer and autumn season. But you can easily treat them if you identify them correctly and immediately start taking precautions. If you live in the countryside or in any area where pollen count is high, you must be extra cautious. It’s best to stay indoors when high pollen has been forecasted in your area and avoid chores that involve going out. Maintain high level of cleanliness inside your home and keep it free of any mold, dust mites, pet danders and cockroaches. In case you catch a seasonal allergy, you can treat yourself with antihistamine drugs and nasal decongestants.