What Are Seasonal Allergies?
An allergy is an overreaction by your body’s immune system to something you contact in the environment. Seasonal allergies typically occur at certain times of the year, when irritants or allergens, such as plant pollen, are present in greater quantity.
Allergies are a common form of illness. It is estimated that as many as 50 million Americans may suffer from some type of allergy. Symptoms range from moderate to severe.
What Are the Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies?
The following symptoms are typical of seasonal allergies:
- Sinus congestion and a runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Itchy skin, throat, eyes, or ears
- Mucous drainage
- Congested ear canals
Other possible symptoms include headaches, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Seasonal allergies can make you tired, partly due to chemicals released by your body to resist the allergen but also due to the lack of sleep that comes from having obstructed nasal passages.
It is not unusual for allergy sufferers to also have asthma. Allergic reactions can sometimes trigger an asthmatic attack.
What Causes Seasonal Allergies?
Like other types of allergies, seasonal allergies are caused by hypersensitivity to certain environmental irritants, called allergens. The body overreacts to what are in fact harmless substances, by releasing chemicals known as histamines. Histamines are responsible for the appearance of allergy symptoms.
Allergens vary by time and place. Below are some common seasonal allergens:
Tree pollens are a primary source of springtime allergies. Allergenic trees include alder, birch, cedar, horse chestnut, oak, poplar, and willow. Grass pollens are also an issue in many states. The springtime allergy season runs from late February into summer.
During summer months, grass pollens are the dominant allergen. Included are timothy, rye, bermuda, redtop, and orchard grasses, as well as several weed species. Kentucky bluegrass is a major offender: it has the highest pollen counts of any grass type.
The leading source of fall allergies is ragweed. Other autumn allergen-producers include the plants pigweed, lamb’s-quarters, cocklebur, burning bush, and mugwort. In Kentucky, sorrel pollens and mold contribute during the months of July to October.
Wintertime allergies tend to originate indoors. Cold-weather allergens include molds, pet dander, dust mites, and cockroach sheddings.
How Are Seasonal Allergies Diagnosed?
Seasonal allergies are relatively simple to diagnose. If your symptoms only appear at certain times of the year, then you likely have some type of seasonal allergy. Allergy testing is often not required, because treatments are the same regardless of the allergens involved.
Keep in mind that seasonal allergies are not the same thing as colds. The latter are caused by viruses, while hay fever is triggered by allergens. How can you tell the difference? If your skin, ears, and throat are itchy and your drainage is watery and clear, you’re probably having an allergic reaction. A sore throat and thick, discolored mucous is more typical of a cold.
How Are Seasonal Allergies Treated?
The bad news about allergies is they can be uncomfortable. The good news is that there are a number of steps you can take to lessen their impact on your life during that time of year:
Don’t Expose Yourself to Triggers
Since allergies are caused by allergens, try avoiding them when you can:
- Stay indoors on windy or high pollen-count days
- Delegate yardwork to others
- If you must work outside, try wearing a mask
- Change your clothes when returning indoors
Clean the Air You Breathe
It’s also possible to reduce allergens inside the home:
- Air condition your house and other indoor locations where you spend time
- Change your furnace filters regularly
- Keep indoor air dry with a dehumidifier
- Vacuum floors using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters
Try Over-the-Counter Medications
There are a number of non-prescription medications to help control seasonal allergies:
- Decongestants to open stopped-up nasal passages
- Antihistamines for suppressing a variety of symptoms, including itchiness, runny nose, and watery eyes
- Combination medications containing both a decongestant and an antihistamine
Consider Alternative Treatments
Some allergy sufferers turn to alternative treatments:
- Sinus rinses for nasal congestion
- Acupuncture for symptom relief
- Natural extracts such as spirulina and shrub butterbur
Don’t Let Itchy Eyes and a Runny Nose Run Your Life
Over-the-counter medicines and other self-remedies don’t always work. At Baptist Health, we can help you handle seasonal allergies anytime of the year. Contact one of the many allergy specialists in our extensive regional network.
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