Seasonal Allergies The Patient Education Institute, Inc. im Last reviewed: 05/30/2012 1

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1 Seasonal Allergies Introduction Seasonal allergies are allergies that develop during certain times of the year. Seasonal allergies are usually a response to pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. Constant sneezing, congestion, and other cold-like symptoms make seasonal allergies a major annoyance for many people. This reference summary discusses the causes and symptoms of seasonal allergies. Information about ways to prevent and treat allergy symptoms is also included. Seasonal Allergies Seasonal allergies are allergies that develop during certain times of the year. Some people may have seasonal allergy symptoms year-round. Allergic inflammation of the nasal airway is known as allergic rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis causes cold-like symptoms. Seasonal allergies are a form of allergic rhinitis. Unlike a cold, seasonal allergies are not caused by a virus. Instead, the cold-like symptoms are brought on by an allergic reaction to outdoor allergens. An allergen is any substance that causes an allergic reaction. Seasonal allergies are usually allergic reactions to pollen produced by certain plants. Mold spores can also cause an allergic reaction. Seasonal allergies can reduce your quality of life. The irritating symptoms interfere with daily life, such as work and recreational activities. Seasonal allergies may also cause you to sleep poorly and may lead to other health problems. The good news is that you don t have to live with seasonal allergies. By avoiding the things that trigger an allergic reaction and getting the right kind of treatment, you can feel normal again, no matter what season it is. 1

2 Symptoms Seasonal allergy symptoms typically start immediately after being exposed to a specific allergen. Not everyone will experience the same symptoms. Seasonal allergy symptoms vary by person. Common symptoms of seasonal allergies include: Coughing Itching of the nose Nasal congestion Runny nose Sneezing Seasonal allergy symptoms may also include: Decreased sense of smell or taste Sinus pressure Itchy, puffy, red, and watery eyes Sinusitis Ear infections Sinusitis is an infection or inflammation of the membrane that lines the sinuses. Sometimes seasonal allergies can cause more severe allergic reactions. Asthma and eczema are examples of serious allergic reactions that may require medical treatment. Asthma is a chronic, or ongoing, disease in which airways in the lungs become narrowed and swollen. This makes it difficult to breathe. Eczema is a condition in which the skin becomes inflamed and forms blisters. It also causes the skin to become crusty, thick, and scaly. Seasonal allergy symptoms may begin or get worse during certain times of the year. Symptoms may be triggered by plants that bloom at different times of the year. These plants include grasses, tree pollen, or weeds. Allergy symptoms can begin at any age. They are most likely to develop during childhood or early adulthood. The severity of symptoms may change over the years. For many people, seasonal allergies slowly get better. 2

3 A number of people will get used to their seasonal allergies and not seek treatment. However, getting the right kind of treatment can make seasonal allergies more manageable. Treatment is especially important if symptoms include serious allergic reactions like asthma or eczema. Causes & Risk Factors Seasonal allergies are the result of your immune system mistaking a harmless allergen for something harmful. When an allergen like tree pollen is detected, your immune system tries to fight it off by releasing chemicals into your bloodstream. These chemicals produce a reaction that causes the symptoms of seasonal allergies. Symptoms are most often triggered by the following allergens: Tree pollen Grass pollen Weed pollen Spores from fungi and molds Certain people have an increased risk for developing seasonal allergies. For example, people who have other allergies or asthma are more likely to develop seasonal allergies. Other factors that increase your risk for developing seasonal allergies include: Being exposed to cigarette smoke during your first year of life Being male Having a blood relative with allergies or asthma Regular exposure to allergens at work or living environment Diagnosis To diagnose seasonal allergies, your healthcare provider will first ask about your symptoms and how you usually treat them. He or she may also ask about your personal and family health history. A physical exam may be done. This exam may provide clues about the causes of your symptoms. 3

4 Your healthcare provider may also recommend one or both of the following tests: Skin prick test Allergy blood test For the skin prick test, a small amount of allergen material is pricked into the skin of your arm or upper back. Your healthcare provider then observes you for signs of an allergic reaction. If you are allergic to the allergen material, you will develop a raised bump known as a hive at the site of the skin prick. Skin Prick Test For the allergy blood test, a blood sample is taken and sent to a lab. At the lab, the blood s sensitivity to different allergens can be tested. Treatment The best way to prevent seasonal allergies is to avoid the allergens that cause a reaction. When it is impossible to avoid an allergen, treatment options are available. For less severe symptoms, over-the-counter medications may help. For more severe symptoms, prescription medication may be needed. Many people experience the greatest relief by taking a combination of allergy medications. It may take some time to figure out which medications work best for you. Be sure to read the medication label or talk to a pharmacist about recommended dosage and safety concerns. Several medications are commonly used to treat seasonal allergy symptoms. Some common medications include: Antihistamines Corticosteroids Decongestants Histamine is a substance found in all body tissue. It plays a role in allergic reactions. Histamine causes fever, itching, sneezing, a runny nose, and watery eyes. Antihistamines are a type of drug that blocks the action of histamines. 4

5 Corticosteroids may be used to suppress the immune system, which prevents the release of histamines. Histamines cause the cold-like symptoms associated with allergies. Decongestants are a type of medicine used to relieve nasal congestion. Often decongestants are used with antihistamines to treat seasonal allergies. In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend immunotherapy. The goal of immunotherapy is to get your body used to the allergens so that they stop causing symptoms. Immunotherapy involves a series of shots given over a period of three to five years. Each shot contains a small amount of an allergen. The symptoms will stop once your body gets used to the allergens. Talk to your healthcare provider about these and other medications used to treat seasonal allergies. By working together, you and your healthcare provider can figure out which medications work best to treat your allergy symptoms. Prevention There is no way to avoid developing seasonal allergies in the first place. However, there are some ways to lessen your risk of exposure to the allergens that cause symptoms. One of the best ways to prevent the onset of symptoms is to take your allergy medication before you are exposed to allergens. For example, taking a once-daily antihistamine in the morning could prevent symptoms for up to 24 hours. To avoid exposure to pollen or molds, close your doors and windows during pollen season. To stay cool, use the air conditioning in your house and car. Another way to avoid allergy symptoms is by keeping your laundry indoors. Do not line-dry your laundry outside. Pollen can stick to sheets, towels, and clothing. Avoid outdoor activities, especially in the morning. Pollen counts are the highest in the early hours of the day. You should also stay inside during dry, windy days. 5

6 If you suffer from seasonal allergies, avoid mowing your lawn or raking leaves. These activities stir up pollen and mold. You could also try wearing a dust mask when performing outdoor activities. Special air filters can remove allergens and other irritants from the air. These filters can be installed as part of your household ventilation system, or you can purchase individual filtration units for use in specific rooms. Preventing allergy symptoms is easier when you know your specific triggers. Your healthcare provider can help you determine exactly what you re allergic to. By knowing whether tree pollen or mold spores are responsible for your symptoms, you can take steps to avoid the allergen. Summary Seasonal allergies are allergy symptoms that develop during certain times of the year. These symptoms are usually caused by a reaction to pollen produced by grass, trees, or weeds. Mold spores can also cause allergy symptoms. A number of people will get used to their seasonal allergies and not seek treatment. However, getting the right kind of treatment can make seasonal allergies more manageable. Seasonal allergies are often diagnosed using a skin prick test or an allergy blood test. The best way to prevent seasonal allergies is to avoid the allergens that cause a reaction. However, when you are unable to avoid certain allergens, you may experience relief from your symptoms by taking certain over-the-counter or prescription medications. Preventing allergy symptoms is easier when you know your specific triggers. Your healthcare provider can help you determine exactly what you re allergic to. 6

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