Have you noticed that you sneeze and cough, or your nose and eyes itch and are runny during certain times of the year? If so, you may have seasonal allergies. The most common triggers of seasonal allergies include grass, pollen and mold. Your immune system attacks the inhaled allergens and releases chemicals called histamines. These histamines trigger allergy and asthma symptoms.
In addition to grass, pollen and mold, the following triggers are often seasonally related:
- Smoke from summer campfires and winter fireplaces
- Insect bites and stings are more often experienced in spring and summer
- Pool chlorine can indirectly contribute to allergies by irritating your respiratory tract
- Pine trees, Christmas trees and wreaths from Thanksgiving to Christmas
Let’s take a closer look at some common seasonal allergies. At the end of this article, you can learn how to fight back.
In most locations, spring brings wind-blown seasonal pollens from trees, grasses, flowers and weeds. For at least 40 million Americans, these seasonal pollens are powerful allergens that trigger life-disrupting allergic reactions.
Pollens are tiny grains, typically about six microns in diameter (human hair diameter: 50 - 70 microns). When airborne, they can enter your respiratory system, where your body treats them as invaders and releases antibodies for protection.
Pollen, mold and insect stings are the most common allergy culprits during the summer months. These summer allergens can leave you with some unusual symptoms. You might want to consider seeing a board-certified allergist if the following symptoms accompany your sniffling and sneezing:
- Allergic shiner: Dark circles under your eyes from swelling and discoloration of blood vessels under the skin. They look similar to a “shiner” you might develop if you’ve been hit near your eye.
- Allergic (adenoidal) face: Nasal allergies can trigger a swelling of the adenoids (lymph tissue lining the back of the throat and behind the nose). This can result in a tired and droopy look.
- Nasal crease: Constant upward rubbing in an attempt to relieve nasal congestion and itching can result in a line appearing across the bridge of the nose.
- Mouth breathing: Allergic rhinitis (group of symptoms affecting the nose) can cause severe nasal congestion, resulting in constant breathing through the mouth. Some sufferers will develop a high, arched palate, an elevated upper lip, and an overbite. Teens with allergic rhinitis might need braces to correct dental issues.
Summer allergy symptoms are often mistaken for colds and food intolerances. If your symptoms are persistent and last for more than two weeks, you should see your allergist. We recommend http://allergist.aaaai.org/find/ to find a board-certified specialist near you.
One of the most common fall allergy triggers is ragweed pollen. While the yellow flowering plant begins to bloom in August, it continues into the fall months until cold weather kills it off. And in warmer climates, it can flourish all the way into the winter.
Ragweed pollen can travel easily on the wind, which means it can affect you even if you don’t have it growing nearby. While many people think ragweed and other pollens tend to be a major problem only in certain regions of the country, the truth is they torment allergy sufferers all over the U.S.
The most common winter allergen comes from Christmas trees, also known as “Christmas Tree Syndrome.”
Christmas trees are cut, baled and packed into refrigerated trucks to be delivered to a tree seller near your home. Unfortunately, along the way, moisture and the tight bundling of the trees supports an ideal environment for mold to grow.
In many cases, once the tree gets into your home the mold on the tree begins reproducing, triggering the allergic reaction we call Christmas Tree Syndrome. Many of the mold varieties found on Christmas trees are those most likely to trigger allergies. Learn more about Christmas tree syndrome.
Dust mites can trigger allergies any time of year. These microscopic insects feed off the flakes of skin shed naturally by your family and pets. As many as 20 million Americans are allergic to proteins found in the mites’ bodies and feces. And when you turn on your furnace that first chilly fall morning, this waste can be blown all over your home, causing allergies to flare. In fact, a study by the American Thoracic Society noted that emergency clinic admissions for asthma increase with the first seasonal uses of indoor heating.
Mold spores breed outdoors in fallen leaves, gardens, compost piles and yard waste. The spores are small, light and easily inhaled into the lungs. Mold spores are a powerful allergen that can cause the immune system to overreact, resulting in coughing, restricted breathing and asthma symptoms.
Weather patterns and seasonal allergies
While the timing and severity of an allergy season can vary, there are time-of-day and weather factors that can influence the severity of your allergic reactions.
- Tree, grass and ragweed pollens thrive during cool nights and warm days
- Molds grow quickly in heat and high humidity
- Pollen levels tend to peak in the morning hours
- Rain washes pollen away, but pollen counts can soar after rainfall
- Airborne allergens are grounded when wind is absent
- Pollen counts surge during warm, windy days
- Allergens are virtually everywhere, so relocation isn’t a true solution
How to fight seasonal allergies
Whether you and your allergist decide to address your allergies with medication and/or immunotherapy, preventing allergens from entering your body is the best medicine.
- Give your home regular thorough cleanings. This includes using a HEPA vacuum cleaner on all rugs, carpets and draperies.
- Rake your yard of fallen leaves and other dead vegetation, and don’t leave piles sitting on the lawn.
- Clean out gutters and compost bins regularly. It’s a good idea to wear an allergy mask, such as an N95 particulate respirator, to filter pollen and mold while doing yard work. Clear safety goggles will also help.
- Monitor the pollen and mold count in your area. On days when they are high, stay indoors as much as possible and keep doors and windows closed. For accurate pollen and mold counts in your area, visit www.aaaai.org/global/nab-pollen-counts.
- Bathe your pets and/or wipe down their fur regularly to remove pollen and mold.
- Pollen and mold sticks to clothing, skin and hair, so remove jackets and shoes before coming into the house and change into fresh clothes once inside. Also, bathe or shower before going to bed each night to keep it from getting on sheets and pillowcases.
- Use a powerful air purifier for allergies to stop allergens before they trigger a reaction.
- Wear an air pollution mask to reduce your exposure to allergens when you're outdoors or in heavily polluted areas. A KN95-certified pollution protection mask, such as the IQAir Mask, can filter virtually all pollen and other allergens from the air you breathe.
Seasonal allergies are a nuisance, but vigilance can stop them from taking away your quality of life.