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Treating Your Spring Allergy Symptoms

by Dr. Michael McKelvey

Springtime is something most people look forward to through the cold months of winter, but if you’re one of those suffering from springtime allergies, you may not be as excited about the blooming of trees and flowers. 

When it begins to warm up, trees and grasses begin releasing pollen into the air. When people inhale this pollen, it can trigger allergies.

In the United States, spring allergies symptoms can occur from February until early summer, depending on your state.

Allergens come in two forms:

  1. Seasonal: Symptoms occur in spring, summer, or fall and are usually due to pollen or mold spores.

  2. Perennial: Symptoms occur all year round. Causes include dust mites, pet dander, mold, and cockroaches.

Allergies that occur in springtime are known as spring allergies, hay fever, or allergic rhinitis.

Causes of Spring Allergies

An allergy occurs when your immune system overreacts to an otherwise harmless substance, known as an allergen. When you have an allergy, your body produces antibodies that travel to the cells that release histamine and other chemicals.

Histamine causes swelling in the nose and eyes in an attempt to stop allergens entering the body. Histamine also causes sneezing, attempting to remove allergens from the nose.

The main cause of spring allergies is the pollen that grows and reproduces during this season.

What to Know About Pollen and Allergy Symptoms

Plants produce tiny grains of pollen for reproduction. While some plants rely on insects to spread their pollen, other plants use the wind. Pollen spread by the wind is the main cause of allergy symptoms in people with pollen allergies.

Trees begin to release their pollen in early spring. Depending on your state, different trees will begin pollination earlier or later, in the season.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) list the trees most likely to cause allergy symptoms. They include:

  1. alder

  2. aspen

  3. ash

  4. beech

  5. birch

  6. cedar

  7. elm

  8. olive

  9. oak

  10. willow

  11. poplar

Grass releases its pollen later in the spring than most trees. Grass pollen can also cause allergy symptoms in people with pollen allergies.

According to the AAFA, the most common grasses that cause allergic reactions are:

  1. orchard

  2. Kentucky

  3. Bermuda

  4. Johnson

  5. rye

  6. sweet vernal

  7. Timothy

Changes in weather can also affect how much pollen these plants release. Warm days increase plant growth and fertilization, whereas rainy days dampen the spread of pollen. Windy days help the pollen to spread more easily, which can increase your allergy symptoms.

Common Spring Allergy Symptoms

Spring allergies can cause the following symptoms:

  1. red and watery eyes

  2. sneezing

  3. runny nose

  4. itchy eyes, nose, ears, and mouth

  5. stuffy nose due to congestion

  6. puffy eyes

  7. post-nasal drip, where there is a sensation of mucus dripping down the back of the throat

  8. hives (rare)

  9. coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing

Preventing Common Spring Allergy Symptoms

To prevent exposure to pollen and mold, take the following steps:

  1. check local pollen counts and limit time outside when pollen levels are high

  2. keep garden grass short

  3. wear a dust mask when mowing the lawn and gardening

  4. avoid dead and rotting logs

  5. keep all windows closed if possible and use allergy-friendly filters on air conditioning units

  6. bathe and wash hair daily to remove pollen

  7. wash bed linen once a week

  8. change and wash clothes after being outdoors

  9. dry clothes in a dryer if possible instead of outdoors

  10. remove shoes before entering the house

  11. wear hats and sunglasses when outside to limit pollen entering the eyes and landing in the hair

  12. vacuum floors at least once a week

Treatments for Common Spring Allergies

Treatments for spring allergies can include taking medication, but you might also try some home remedies.

Medication

There are a range of medications available to treat spring allergy symptoms. These medications are available both over the counter (OTC) and by prescription.

  1. Antihistamines: These can relieve symptoms, such as itchy eyes and nose, runny nose, and sneezing. Antihistamines are available in pill, nasal spray, or liquid forms.

  2. Nasal corticosteroids: A type of nasal spray that reduces inflammation. Doctors consider these the most effective medications for allergic rhinitis.

  3. Decongestants: These work by shrinking the lining of the nasal passages and reducing stuffiness. Decongestants come in pill, liquid, drop, and nasal spray form. Be aware that long-term use can cause side effects.

  4. Leukotriene receptors: These tablets block the action of certain chemicals involved in allergic reactions.

  5. Eye drops: Eye drops treat eye allergies. Eye drops can provide short-term relief for redness, itchiness, and swelling.

  6. Additional nasal sprays: other sprays are available to soothe dry nasal passages or reduce thick mucus, post-nasal drip symptoms, and help prevent allergic reactions.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a long-term solution that aims to desensitize people to the allergens that affect them. Doctors may use immunotherapy to treat people who experience side effects or feel little or no benefit from medication.

There are two types of immunotherapy: allergy shots and sublingual tablets.

Allergy shots involve having allergen injections for 3–5 years. These injections help build up resistance to the allergens.