An allergy occurring in a specific season is usually called hay fever. According to American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, around 8% of Americans experience seasonal allergies every year.
Hay fever or seasonal allergies are a result of overreaction in your immune system due to an outdoor allergen, like pollen. An allergen is a substance that initiates an allergic reaction. Pollen is one of the most common allergens, which resides in wind-pollinated plants such as grasses, weeds and trees. Pollens from insect-pollinated plants are quite heavy to stay in the air for long. So, they are less harmful in triggering an allergic response.
The word ‘Hay Fever’ derived from the name hay-cutting season. Believing the historical facts, hay-cutting season occurred during the months of summer, when many people experienced seasonal allergy symptoms.
In this blog, we will talk about the seasonal allergy symptoms, its causes and other different types of allergy.
Seasonal Allergy Symptoms
Seasonal allergies are not very common in winter months, but you might face the problems of allergic rhinitis throughout the year. There are various types of plants emitting pollens at different periods of the year. Based on your specific triggers and the area you live in, you may have hay fever in one or more seasons. Sometimes, indoor allergens like pet dander or mold can also cause seasonal allergies.
Here are some common symptoms of seasonal allergies that you must know about:
- Postnasal drainage
- Ear congestion
- Watery and itchy eyes
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Itchy sinuses, ear canals or throat
Less common symptoms of seasonal allergies are:
- Difficulty breathing
There are several individuals who have asthma and experience hay fever. If you experience hay fever and you have the health issue of asthma, you are likely to have an asthma attack.
Causes of seasonal allergies
Hay fever or seasonal allergies occurs when your immune system detects an airborne allergen that is dangerous. It responds to the allergen while releasing chemicals like histamines into the bloodstream. These chemicals lead to the symptoms of a kind of allergic reaction. The basic triggers of seasonal allergies vary from season to season.
Let us discuss it in detail.
Trees are mostly responsible for seasonal allergies during spring. The most common cause is the Birch tree growing in the northern latitudes. Many people in the area get hay fever on reacting to the pollen of this thin-leaved deciduous hardwood tree. Other trees that cause seasonal allergies in North America are alder, cedar, willow, horse chestnut and poplar.
As it gets the name from hay-cutting season of summer months, summer is the season that results in the highest numbers of seasonal allergy cases. The main culprits of seasonal allergies in summer are grasses such as timothy grass and ryegrass, along with some weeds. As per the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, grasses are the most vital trigger of hay fever in a majority of individuals.
Autumn or fall is a ragweed season, with the genus name for it being Ambrosia. It includes over 40 species across the world. Most of these species grow in the temperate areas of South and North America. These are invasive plants that are not easy to control. The pollens from these trees contribute to seasonal allergies, leading to the ragweed allergy symptoms, which are mostly severe. Other trees that drop their pollens during and contributing as a common allergen include mugworts, nettles, fat hens, plantains and sorrels.
As winter sets in, most of the outdoor allergens go dormant. So, cold weather reportedly offers relief to individuals suffering from hay fever or seasonal allergy. However, this also suggests that you spend more time indoors. If you are prone to any seasonal allergies, you are likely to experience allergic reaction from indoor allergens like pet dander, cockroaches, mold or dust mites.
Indoor allergens are easy to remove from the surrounding as compared to outdoor allergens like pollen. Take these tips to ensure you get rid of indoor allergens to protect your family from allergies:
- Cover your pillows and bedding using allergen-proof covers
- Wash the bedding with hot water, at least once in seven days
- Use a humidifier to minimize excess moisture in the house or workplace
- Take away the stuffed toys from your kids’ bedrooms
- Keep away the carpets and upholstery
- Fix any water leakage problems and repair water damage that can lead to pests and mold indoors
- Clean all the moldy surfaces, refrigerators, humidifiers, swamp coolers and air conditioners.
Diagnosis of seasonal allergies
Hay fever is not quite difficult to diagnose as compared other types of allergies. If you see any of the above-mentioned symptoms of seasonal allergies occurring at a specific period of the year, you may need to see a doctor. You might be suffering from a seasonal allergic rhinitis. The doctors will also check your nose, ears and throat for diagnosing a seasonal allergy.
It is not always necessary to test allergy symptoms. The treatment remains the same for all kinds of allergies.
Treatment for seasonal allergies
The best medication a doctor could prescribe for hay fever and other allergic rhinitis is keeping away from the allergens triggering symptoms. Let us talk about the alternative medication n and treatment of seasonal allergies
You can take steps to avoid seasonal allergies like try using an air conditioner having a HEPA filter to cool the indoors of your home or workplace in summers, in place of ceiling fans. Keep a track of the local weather for pollen forecasts and try staying indoors when the forecast reports high pollen drop.
During period of high hay fever:
- Limit your outdoor time
- Close your windows
- Try wearing a dust mask when leaving home, mainly on windy days.
- It is essential to ignore cigarette smoke that tends to increase the chances of seasonal allergy symptoms
When you fail to avoid allergens, you can opt for treatment like:
- Prescription medications like steroid nasal sprays
- Over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants, such as Zyrtec/Cetirizine and combination medications containing diphenhydramine, acetaminophen and phenylephrine
- In serious cases, the doctor may suggest taking allergy shots. Allergy shots are type of immunotherapy, which helps desensitizing the immune system to specific allergens.
- Some allergy medications show unwanted side effects like dizziness, confusion and drowsiness.
In some studies, there are alternative treatments suggested for seasonal allergies. Some individuals trust the below alternative treatments for quick relief:
- Vitamin C with antihistamine properties
- Spirulina, which is a type of blue-green algae
- Quercetin, a flavonoid offering vegetables and fruits color
- Lactobacillus acidophilus, the good bacteria present in yogurt
However, further research is needed to prove effectiveness of these alternative treatments
Symptoms of various kinds of allergies
Allergy symptoms basically depend on the allergen involved in the process that affects your nasal passages, sinuses, digestive systems, skin and airways. Allergic reactions occur showing mild to serious symptom. In severe conditions allergies can lead to harmful reactions called anaphylaxis
Types of allergies and its symptoms
Hay Fever or allergic rhinitis shows symptoms like:
- Watery, swollen or red eyes (conjunctivitis)
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Itching of roof of your mouth, nose or eyes
Food allergy shows symptoms such as
- Tingling in your mouth
- Swelling of tongue, lips, throat or face
Insect sting allergy shows symptoms like:
- Hives or itching in various parts of the body
- Edema (swelling of a large area) at the stung site
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
Drug allergy shows symptoms such as:
- Itchy Skin
- Facial swelling
Atomic dermatitis is an allergic skin reaction that leads to different symptoms on your skin such as:
- Peeling or flaking
There are some types of allergies that leads to severe reactions called anaphylaxis. These allergies include insect stings and food allergies. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening medical emergency that can even lead to shock.
Here are some common symptoms of anaphylaxis:
- A rapid, weak pulse
- Severe shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of consciousness
- Skin rash
- A drop in blood pressure
Right time to see a doctor
You must see a doctor if you notice any of these allergic symptoms or seek over-the-counter medications for quick relief. In case of allergic symptoms post medication, talk to your doctor immediately.
For anaphylaxis, dial 911 or any of your local emergency numbers for immediate medical assistance. If you have epinephrine auto-injector handy, take a shot then and there.
Even if you notice improvement in your signs of allergic reaction after having the epinephrine shot, it is important to see a doctor. It is to ensure that the symptoms don’t show again, once the effect of the shot fades away.
In case of a severe allergic attack or serious symptoms of allergies in the past, book an appointment with your physician. Diagnosis, evaluation and effective management of anaphylaxis are often complicated. As such, you will need to visit your doctor for solutions
Causes of certain types of allergies
The onset of any allergic reaction is due to problems in your immune system while handling a harmful invader. Your immune system starts producing antibodies to fight the allergens and gets alert for the specific allergen. When you are exposed to that allergen, your immune system creates antibodies, which release several chemicals such as histamines that show allergy symptoms.
Some of the common triggers of allergy include:
- Airborne allergens, like pollen, animal dander, mold and dust mites
- Foods, especially tree nuts, soy fish, eggs, milk, wheat, shellfish and peanuts
- Insect stings, such as from a wasp or bee
- Medications, mainly penicillin or penicillin-based antibiotics
- Latex or other substances you touch that causes allergic skin reactions
Risk factors of allergic reactions
You are likely to have an allergy if:
- There is a family history of allergies such as hives, hay fever or eczema.
- Family history of asthma
- You are a kid
- You have any allergic condition
Complications of allergic reactions
When you have allergy, the risk of some specific medical issues increases, such as:
Asthma: When you are having allergy, you are exposed to get asthma, which is an immune system reaction that leads to breathing and airways problems. In most cases, asthma is the result of exposure to an outdoor allergen in your surroundings. It is also known as allergy-induced asthma.
Anaphylaxis: If you have serious conditions of allergies, you are more likely to develop anaphylaxis. It is a severe allergy-induced reaction that is usually the result of insect stings, food and certain medications.
Sinuses and other infections of lungs or ears: If you have asthma or hay fever, you are at a risk of developing such health issues.
Prevention of allergies
Prevention of any allergic reactions depends on its type. Some of the common preventive measures to take include:
Maintain a diary: when you are trying to notice the reasons behind your allergic symptoms, you should note down your daily activities and the food you eat when the symptoms show up and acknowledge what helps relieving those symptoms. It can be helpful when you see a doctor for diagnosis of allergies.
Avoid known triggers: Even though you are on a treatment of certain type of allergy, try keeping away from the triggers. For example, if you have hay fever, do not expose yourself to pollens. Stay inside for as long as you can, shut the windows and doors. In case of an allergy to dust mites, wash and vacuum clean your bed once in a week.
Wear a medical alert bracelet: Wearing a medical alert bracelet helps others know about your allergy so when you fail to communicate about it.
The seasonal allergy symptoms can often make you uncomfortable. If you notice any of these allergic symptoms, see a doctor immediately and seek essential medication. A specialized doctor can help you diagnose the problem sooner and treat it better. You should also take steps to avoid seasonal allergies by staying home more often during the time of high pollen drop in your surroundings.