Red itchy eyes, a runny nose, and sneezing galore — if that sounds like you, you’re likely in the midst of an allergy attack. That’s because while springtime means pretty blooming trees and the return of warm weather, it also brings seasonal allergies along for the ride, which can last from early March through June, as the tree pollens of March and April makes way for the grass pollens of May and June. And then, of course, comes the ragweed allergies of summer. It's not until the first frost of fall hits that allergy sufferers are really out of the woods, says Jessica Hui, MD, a pediatric allergist at National Jewish Health in Denver. And even if you live in an area with more cars and buildings than trees, you can still get those seasonal sniffles, Dr. Hui says — some pollens can travel dozens or even hundreds of miles on the wind.
Whether you're allergic to birch, oak, grass, or tumbleweed, there are plenty of ways to feel better. We asked experts to share common spring allergy symptoms to look out for, and what you can do to find some relief.
What are common spring allergy symptoms?
Spring allergies may trigger upper respiratory symptoms such as:
You can also develop hives or eczema on the skin, or be plagued with red, itchy, and watery eyes, as well as puffiness around your eyelids. “Allergies are like a cold that never goes away,” says Eugene S. Hurwitz, M.D., medical director of the Center for Allergy and Asthma of Georgia. Luckily, they respond well to treatment (more on that later).
What triggers an allergy attack?
Coming in contact with an allergen — in the case of seasonal allergies, pollen — causes your body to produce excessive amounts of histamines, which are chemicals that set off your series of symptoms, says Clifford Bassett, M.D., clinical assistant professor in the department of medicine, division of infectious diseases, and immunology at NYU Langone Health. Tree and grass pollen levels tend to peak during spring, while ragweed and other weed pollens can last through the summer and into early fall. Your body mistakes these allergens for an enemy, which is why your immune system kicks in with a symptomatic response. Your symptoms can also be triggered if dust, pet dander, dust mites, or even mold are kicked up during your spring cleaning. Allergies are also the most common trigger for asthma, which can lead to inflammation in the airways in your lungs, causing wheezing and making it difficult to breathe.
How can I tell the difference between allergies and an illness like the common cold?
With a cold or other infection, you’ll typically experience additional symptoms such as chills, fever, body aches, or gastrointestinal issues. “These other symptoms usually kick in suddenly and then develop over days, but they’ll generally resolve within 7 to 14 days,” says Dr. Bassett. You can also place your bets on allergies if you experience symptoms after being outside, and if allergy meds cause your symptoms to disappear or remain under control.
How can I tell the difference between allergies and COVID-19?
Even with the long-awaited vaccine now available for a select group of Americans, the Covid-19 pandemic is not likely to end before the allergy season, which could make every cough a cause for alarm. And while there are many symptoms that are common to both, particularly cough and headache, there are some ways to tell the difference, says Dr. Hui. "An allergy cough is usually caused by postnasal drip, so many patients tell me it's worse in the morning, since they've been lying down all night," she explains. The itchiness you get from the release of histamines when you have allergies is also not common with coronavirus. And, of course, there are telltale symptoms of COVID that are not generally associated with allergies, such as loss of smell or taste, body aches, fever, and nausea and diarrhea (thought not everyone with the virus experiences those symptoms). If you have any concern, however, call your doctor to see if you should be tested for coronavirus.
What can I do to relieve my seasonal allergy symptoms?
Over-the-counter medications like antihistamines can help fight symptoms and last 24 hours (look for non-drowsy if it’s not bedtime), and nasal steroid sprays can also be effective at blocking symptoms when used daily, says Dr. Hurwitz. There are also treatments that your doctor can provide. “The most effective is immunotherapy or allergy shots or sublingual tablets,” says Dr. Hurwitz. “They build up immunity to the things a patients is allergic to and can reduce symptoms and associated conditions like sinus infections and asthma by as much as 80 to 90% if given by board-certified allergists.” While the sublingual tablets—which dissolve under your tongue—have only been approved for four specific allergens (including dust mites and grass), allergy shots are effective in treating multiple allergens.
If you’re looking for a medication-free option, try a sinus rinse or saline spray, which can clear out mucus and ease congestion, says Rekha Raveendran, M.D., allergist and immunologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
And pay attention to your diet: certain foods like sugar, gluten, or dairy can trigger inflammation in the body that may worsen seasonal allergy symptoms, says Fred Pescatore, M.D., author of The Allergy & Asthma Cure. “Swap these foods for local seasonal produce, and try drinking one or two cups of green tea daily, which is a natural antihistamine,” he says.
You Might Also Like