Seasonal allergies—or hay fever—occur when the immune system overreacts to an environment’s triggers. The allergic reaction that inflames the nasal passages is referred to as allergic rhinitis.

People who suffer allergic rhinitis are not alone; up to 30 percent of the world’s population have allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI). There are 50 million Americans who have allergies, and on any given day, approximately 10,000 students miss school due to allergy-related illnesses.

What Causes Seasonal Allergies?

Allergic rhinitis is a common and persistent condition that often goes undetected. It is brought on by a nasal reaction to airborne allergens. These small particles can also cause allergic conjunctivitis (allergic reactions in the eyes) and asthma (allergic reactions in the lungs).

Common Airborne Allergens and Seasons

Seasonal allergies occur during certain times of the year, usually beginning before springtime and lasting until summer, and then again from late summer to fall.

Early-year allergies begin when tree pollination occurs, as early as February. Grass pollination begins in springtime and may continue during summer. Ragweed grows in many climates and releases pollen from late summer to late fall, and is an airborne allergen, as are many tree allergens. However, most tree pollen doesn’t travel the hundreds of miles that grass and weed pollen can.

Weed allergies often continue into the fall, which is when outdoor mold may begin growing, often in piles of damp leaves, in cracks of walls, under wood siding or eaves, and even in the cracks of an outdoor deck.

Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies

Allergy symptoms feel like a cold, but symptoms are distinguishable from colds. Allergies rarely produce body aches, fever, sore throat or muscle pain. While cold symptoms typically disappear after a week, allergy symptoms may continue for several weeks.

Seasonal allergy symptoms:

Eyes: itching, red, swollen (conjunctivitis)

Ears: itching

Nose: itching, sneezing, runny, stuffy

Throat: itching, sore, hoarse

Sleep: disruption to sleep, mouth breathing, tiredness during daytime

Diagnosing Allergic Rhinitis

Depending on the seriousness and frequency of allergic rhinitis, most people want to learn what triggers to avoid. Screening tests (sometimes called medical surveillance) can provide answers. Your healthcare provider will first want to learn about your symptoms, and will also perform a physical examination. The doctor will also ask about the environments at home and at work or school. Other questions that help diagnose the condition involve what you were doing and where you were when, or just before, you noticed the symptoms.

Testing for Allergies

A scratch test involves placing tiny amounts of allergen suspended in liquid at sites on or just under the skin, usually on the arm. For sites that produce itching, redness or swelling, the allergy doctor—or allergist—has now identified the allergen(s).

Testing a patient’s blood is another option. The allergist draws a patient’s blood to measure a specific antibody called immunoglobulin E (igE). The results of the test determine whether the patient responds to some allergies with high levels of igE. Positive responses to specific allergens can pinpoint the scope of a patient’s triggers. Thus, a patient can now move forward with a treatment plan.

Treatments for Seasonal Allergies

There is no cure for allergies, therefore, people with allergic rhinitis might address the problem by adjusting their lifestyle. Lifestyle adjustments help people avoid allergic triggers. This means avoiding the outdoors when local pollen counts are high, and also avoiding jobs such as farming or construction—and activities like soccer—to limit triggers. Rain clears away pollen, so stepping out after rain is recommended.

Additionally, here are some general prevention tactics:

  • Wear an allergy mask to avoid inhaling allergies;
  • Cover the skin to avoid ‘touch’ triggers, like cat dander;
  • Inside, keep windows and doors closed;
  • Add a HEPA filter in your bedroom for more comfortable sleep;
  • Use high-efficiency air-conditioning and heating filters
  • Ensure that your vehicle’s air filters are changed once or twice yearly
  • Dry weather allergy sufferers, try a warm shower to help open nasal passages

Over-the-Counter Medications for Allergies

Along with making changes in your environment, over-the-counter (OTC) allergy relief medications are helpful. These include:

  • decongestants (Afrin, Suphedrine PE, Sudafed)
  • fexofenadine (Allegra)
  • desloratadine (Clarinex)
  • loratadine (Claritin)
  • Levocetirizine (Xyzal)
  • cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • A common prescription allergy relief medication is named diphenhydramine (Benadryl)*

*Use caution with the first generation of this antihistamine. Introduced about 70 years ago, first-generation diphenhydramine is still prescribed due to its sedating effect. However, antihistamine poisoning can occur when a user has too much antihistamine in their body. Second-generation antihistamines are non-sedating, therefore, safer to use.

Sinus rinses May also help with seasonal allergies. A local or online pharmacy can supply a neti-pot or squeeze bottle to flush allergens and mucus from nasal passages.

For some people who suffer from seasonal allergies, these options might not offer relief. At this point, it is time to see your healthcare provider or doctor to discuss a prescription option.

Prescription Medications for Allergies

Common oral medications for allergies, leukotriene modifiers, are:

  • Singulair**
  • Zyflo

**Singulair may increase one’s risk of serious behavioral and mood changes, even suicidal thoughts and actions, and should only be prescribed when there is no suitable alternative.

Common eye drops for allergies that may be purchased OTC or by prescription:

  • Albalon*
  • Alomide*
  • Alrex*
  • Bepreve*
  • Pataday

Nasal Spray for Allergies may be purchased OTC or by prescription:

  • Beconase
  • Dymista*
  • Nasonex*
  • Omnaris*
  • Atrovent*
  • Flonase Sensimist
  • Nasacort AQ
  • Astelin*
  • Rhinocort Aqua
  • Zetonna*

Inhalers for Allergies may be purchased OTC or by prescription:

  • Albuterol (ProAir HFA, Proventil HFA, Ventolin HFA)*
  • Asmanex Twisthaler*
  • Atrovent HFA*
  • Atrovent Inhaler*
  • Pulmicort Flexhaler*
  • Rhinocort Turbuhaler*
  • Serevent Inhaler/Diskus*

*Prescription required

Immunotherapy

For severe allergies or allergies not completely relieved by these treatments, your doctor might recommend allergen immunotherapy. This treatment involves a series of injections of purified allergen extracts, usually prescribed over a few years.

Another form of immunotherapy is a tablet that a patient places under the tongue until it dissolves. These sublingual medications are used to treat some pollen allergies.

It is unwise to replace allergy medications with natural treatments, however, both acupuncture, herbs and/or supplements might find a place alongside your prescribed allergy medication regimen. Allergy sufferers who eat well, get plenty of sleep, and are informed and proactive with regard to allergic rhinitis will often experience desired effects.