Spring and summer are fun for some and terrifying for others, as they mark the onset of many of the allergy season symptoms.
These two seasons are associated with allergy problems because the many pollens and spores of trees and grasses are suspended in the air and can trigger allergy symptoms. The allergy season is different for everyone because of their location, seasonal trees, and specific pollens in the air where they live and work. For example, ragweed pollen is more prevalent during the fall months, so people sensitive to that particular pollen will not develop allergy symptoms until the fall.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say 19.2 million adults and 5.2 million children reported hay fever symptoms in the United States within one year. These numbers indicate that the symptoms of allergy season are common to all age groups.
Seasonal allergy symptoms include wheezing, itching, runny nose, and swollen, itchy eyes. They often require close monitoring by a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and to prevent a severe immunological response in susceptible individuals.
In this article, Dr. Christopher Oseh, an experienced primary care physician, explains the characteristics of common allergy season symptoms and how to manage them.
Common symptoms of allergy season
Symptoms of the allergy season manifest in various ways and to varying degrees depending on the sensitivity of an individual’s immune system. Medication helps relieve some of these symptoms, while others may require avoiding exposure to triggers. A person with hay fever may have one or more of these symptoms.
Itching is when mast cells, a type of white blood cell in your body, release a chemical called histamine. Itching can be localized in specific areas like the eyes, nose or skin, or generalized, depending on the area of the body exposed to an allergen.
2. Dry cough
Irritation of the throat from postnasal drip causes a characteristic dry cough correlated with allergies. Postnasal drip is the flow of fluid and mucus that has accumulated from the back of the nasal cavity to the throat.
Wheezing is a wheezing sound heard most often in asthmatics or those with hypersensitive airways. The influx of respiratory allergens causes the release of fluids and mucus that build up and block the small airways in the lungs.
4. Runny nose
Inhaled airborne allergens trigger the production of fluids in the nose which collects and drains through the nose. Nasal secretions are often clear but may appear mucoid.
This is a reflex response due to foreign bodies such as pollen, dust, and other air particles in the nose. Sneezing serves as a defense mechanism to expel inhaled airborne allergens, which are nasal irritants.
6. Puffy eyes
Allergens exposed to the eyes stimulate a local inflammatory reaction as well as swelling of eye tissue. In some people, it can be associated with watery eyes, which is the body’s way of removing foreign particles from the eyes.
7. Sore throat
Inhaled allergens cause the production of thick, fluid mucus, which collects in the nose and drains down the throat, causing throat pain.
8. Red eyes
The local inflammatory reaction in the eyes increases blood flow, which results in eye redness and discomfort.
A classic dull headache can occur when inflammatory fluid and mucus block the nasal sinuses, which are air spaces in the skull.
How to treat the symptoms of allergy season
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) states that allergy season treatment requires a multidimensional approach and is dependent on the presence of medical conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive airway disease (COPD), both of which affect the severity of symptoms. Different classes of drugs are used for the treatment of allergies, and the area of the body affected determines the route of administration of the drug. For example, nasal congestion requires topical treatment like nasal sprays, while anti-inflammatory eye drops treat allergy-induced swelling of the eyes.
Is it possible to prevent the symptoms of allergy season?
Use the following methods to avoid or reduce exposure to allergens:
- Wear a pollen mask to avoid exposure to pollen
- Stay indoors during stormy days
- Avoid crowded rooms
- Cover your nose when someone close to you coughs or sneezes
- Install air purifiers to filter airborne particles in your home
- Use warm saline solution to remove airborne particles inhaled into your nose
Medication for allergy season symptoms
Antihistamines: These drugs block the effects of histamine in the tissues and help stop the symptoms of itching, regardless of where they are in the body. A study conducted to assess the effectiveness of oral antihistamines in urticaria (allergic skin disease) showed a significant improvement in symptoms in subjects treated with antihistamines.
Corticosteroids: These are anti-inflammatory drugs which reduce inflammatory reactions, in particular swelling of the body, locally or generally. Corticosteroids are available in various forms, such as nasal sprays, oral tablets, and creams. Nasal corticosteroids are sprays used to reduce swelling in the nasal tissues.
Doctors prescribe oral corticosteroids to reduce widespread inflammatory responses in the body, and creams are intended for skin reactions.
Another study conducted on the effect of intranasal steroids to relieve the symptoms of hay fever was shown to improve these symptoms in study participants who received intranasal steroids.
Nasal decongestants: These are nasal sprays used to relieve nasal congestion due to the build-up of fluid and mucus. Nasal decongestants are used for a maximum of three days as longer use may increase the risk of nasal swelling due to rebound effects.
Mast cell stabilizers: This class of drugs prevents mast cells from releasing histamine, which causes local or generalized itching.
Allergic immunotherapy: This therapy involves the administration of specific allergens in the body with the aim of reducing the hypersensitivity response of the immune system. This requires the regular administration of allergy shots to individuals over time to desensitize them to a particular allergen. Allergic immunotherapy is only used in severe allergies or when drugs alone do not control symptoms. It is best to perform allergy immunotherapy before the onset of allergy season to prepare the immune system.
The symptoms of allergy season present themselves differently in each person. These symptoms can be nonspecific and cause life-threatening reactions like anaphylaxis, so it is essential to seek medical help for professional evaluation and advice.