As many as 60 million Americans live with seasonal allergies. If you find yourself with itchy eyes, sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, and coughing during a particular season, then you may have seasonal allergies.
You do not have to suffer and avoid the outdoors. Many allergy treatments are available.
Understanding what is causing your allergy symptoms is crucial. Then you can partner with your healthcare provider to develop a plan to treat your symptoms.
What are seasonal allergies?
A seasonal allergy is a type of allergic reaction that only occurs during a certain season. Like other types of allergies, allergy symptoms that develop during certain seasons are caused by your immune system overreacting to something in the environment.
This is sometimes referred to as allergic rhinitis or hay fever.
What causes seasonal allergies?
Pollen is the most common trigger of season allergies.
Springtime sees trees reemerge from their hibernation releasing tree pollens.
Summer sees the rise of many grasses and hay (thus the term “hay fever“), so it is typically considered grass pollen season.
Fall brings along ragweed and is commonly known as ragweed pollen season.
Most pollens lay dormant in winter in parts of the country. If you experience allergies in winter, it may be caused by indoor allergens. These include pet dander, mold, dust mites and cockroaches.
When does allergy season start?
There is no official beginning to allergy season. It really depends on what triggers your allergy symptoms.
Many people find spring allergies particularly problematic. In many parts of the United States, this is when trees bloom again and release pollen into the air. If you are a person who is allergic to grasses or “hay,” summer may be when you struggle. And for others, fall sees the emergence of ragweed pollen which may trigger allergy symptoms.
If molds, dust mites and other indoor allergens are your allergy trigger, than you may see the peak of your seasonal allergies all year long. The key is to understand when your symptoms normally begin. This will help determine what may trigger your allergic reactions.
What month is worst for allergies?
The worst month for allergies will vary based on where you live. Across the United States, May typically is the worst. In May, most of the country sees elevated pollen counts. This includes both trees and the beginning of some grass pollens.
How do you know if you have seasonal allergies?
If you experience allergy symptoms at only certain times of the year, then you may have a seasonal allergy.
The only way to know for sure if you have a specific allergy is to see a board-certified allergist. An allergist can conduct allergy testing to confirm a diagnosis. Testing may include a skin test or a blood test.
A skin test is the most common type of allergy test. This is done by applying a small amount of diluted allergen to the skin. Then you wait 15 minutes to see if a raised, itchy, red bump appears. If it does, then you have an allergy to that particular allergen.
What are typical seasonal allergy symptoms?
Allergy symptoms vary from person to person and each allergy. Symptoms of seasonal allergies include:
- Stuffy nose or runny nose, usually with clear or pale-colored mucus.
- Red, watery eyes
- Itchy nose, mouth or eyes
- Scratchy or sore throat
What is the best way to treat seasonal allergies?
The best way to treat any allergy is to avoid exposure. This is easier said than done when your allergies are caused by things in your environment. When possible, limit time outside when your allergy triggers are the most active. You can also limit outdoor allergens from coming inside. Try keeping your windows closed, and changing clothes and showering after being outside.
Allergy & Asthma Network has developed a helpful tool to help you monitor pollen counts. This can help you determine when your allergy symptoms may be at their worst.
In addition to allergen avoidance, work with your allergist to develop an allergy treatment plan. This can include the use of over-the-counter and prescription medications.
Allergy medications can help reduce symptoms. Options include antihistamines, nasal sprays and other medicines.
Learn when your allergies are at their worst. Then start taking your allergy medications two weeks before symptoms typically begin. This primes your immune system to better handle seasonal allergens when they arrive.
You can also pre-medicate with an antihistamine and/or a corticosteroid nasal spray two hours before allergen exposure. For eye allergies, eye drops may help with managing symptoms.
Allergy shots (immunotherapy) often provide long-lasting relief for pollen allergy. Sublingual immunotherapy is a pill form of immunotherapy. It’s available for grass and ragweed pollen allergies.
Does Benadryl help with seasonal allergies?
Benadryl® (diphenhydramine) is a first-generation antihistamine. Antihistamines do exactly what they describe – they block histamine. Histamine is the chemical released as an allergic response that causes allergy symptoms, including sneezing, runny nose, hives and red, itchy, watery eyes.
However, first-generation antihistamines tend to make you drowsy. Do not take them when you must do any activities that require you to be alert. Also, recent research suggests there’s a link between long-term use of Benadryl and memory loss. So be sure to talk with your doctor before using Benadryl.
While Benadryl may work for your allergy symptoms, there are other option with fewer side effects.
Is Zyrtec good for seasonal allergies?
Zyrtec® (cetirizine) is a newer type of antihistamine that can treat seasonal allergies. Just like Benadryl, it blocks the histamine response. However, cetirizine and other newer antihistamines like loratadine (Claritin®), fexofenadine (Allegra®) and desloratadine (Clarinex®) cause less drowsiness than Benadryl.
What seasonal allergy management approaches are available?
In addition to antihistamines, seasonal allergies can be managed with other types of medications.
- Leukotriene modifiers – treat seasonal allergic rhinitis. They are designed to block leukotrienes. Leukotrienes are the chemical involved in inflammation and swelling of the airways. The medication helps relieve both nasal congestion and swollen nasal passages.
- Mast cell stabilizers – prevent the release of histamine that causes inflammation. They can ease symptoms such as runny nose, nasal stuffiness, sneezing, postnasal drip and itchy eyes.
- Anticholinergics – treat seasonal allergic rhinitis and relieve nasal symptoms. They help by minimizing the formation of mucus.
- Nasal corticosteroid sprays – prevent and soothe inflammation in nasal tissues and airways. They are available over-the-counter and by prescription.
- Allergen immunotherapy – helps build a patient’s tolerance to allergens. It also can help reduce or eliminate symptoms. In allergen immunotherapy, the patient is given a gradually increasing dose of the allergen. This is done on a regular schedule, until a maintenance level is reached.
How to get rid of seasonal allergies naturally?
One of the best “natural” remedies for treating seasonal allergies is allergen immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a process by which the patient is given tiny amounts of the offending allergen. This is done gradually over time until a maintenance level is reached. Allergen immunotherapy can help reduce and eliminate symptoms.
Even without seeing an allergist, there are some at-home things you can do to reduce your symptoms:
- Saline nasal sprays – available over-the-counter. These help flush out irritated nasal passages caused by allergies or overuse of decongestant nasal sprays.
- Nasal rinses and washes – helpful for people with nasal allergies. A solution of saltwater (sodium chloride) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is used. Using the solution in a rinsing device can help shrink swollen membranes, improve airflow, and open sinus passages. You can buy a premixed solution packet at pharmacies or make your own.
- Air filters – high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters help trap indoor airborne allergens, such as pollen, mold, dust mites or pet dander, before they can circulate in your home.
- Air conditioners and dehumidifiers – help reduce moisture in the air. They also limit mold growth. An air conditioner is also helpful in cooling your home. This will limit the need to open windows, which would allow pollens into your home.
Other Questions & Answers on Seasonal Allergies
As many as 60 million American a year have at least one seasonal allergy. There are a lot of questions around the subject. Here are some that our readers often write to us about.
What is the difference between seasonal allergies and COVID-19?
COVID-19 has made everyone more aware of every little cough or throat tickle. It is important to understand the difference between seasonal allergies and COVID-19.
People with COVID-19 or seasonal allergy symptoms may experience:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
Itchiness of the nose, eyes or skin is a common allergy symptom, but not a COVID-19 symptom.
A fever, nausea and vomiting, muscle aches, headache, or loss of taste or smell are more indicative of a COVID-19 infection.
We have developed a helpful chart to help see the difference between COVID-19, allergies, and the flu.
I have bad seasonal allergies, what are my options?
There is no reason to suffer even if your symptoms are really awful. If you have tried many over-the-counter options and are getting little-to-no relief, make an appointment with a board-certified allergist. Discuss prescription medications as well as allergen immunotherapy.
While these options may not eliminate your symptoms, they can help reduce them to a manageable level.
Why are seasonal allergies worse at night?
It is common for people to experience worsening allergy symptoms at night. When you lay down, it causes what’s in your nose to drip into your throat. This may cause more coughing, congestion, and even a sore throat. Propping up your head at night may help.
Also, throughout the day, you will collect outdoor allergens on your hair, skin and clothes. So to avoid tracking in pollen and other outdoor allergens, change clothes when you come in from the outdoors and take a shower before bed. You don’t want to breathe in allergens all night long.
Lastly, symptoms of allergies may be worse at night if you also have an indoor allergy like mold, pet dander or dust mites.
Can seasonal allergies cause a fever?
No, allergies do not cause a fever. If you experience common allergy symptoms along with a fever, then you may be suffering from a cold, flu, COVID-19, or another infection.
Can babies have seasonal allergies?
Seasonal allergies are very rare in babies. Most children don’t develop them until at least age 3 or later. By then they have lived through several allergy seasons and experienced repeat allergen exposures.
If you are concerned that your baby may have allergies, schedule an appointment with a pediatrician or allergist. Do not give any over-the-counter allergy medications to your baby without first talking to your child’s doctor.
Bradley Chipps, MD, FACAAI, is a board-certified allergist and pediatric pulmonologist with Capital Allergy and Respiratory Disease Center in Sacramento, California. He earned his medical degree from University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston in 1972. He is Past President of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).