Living With Allergies

How to Get Ahead of Your Allergy Season, According to Allergists

A close-up of grass blowing in the wind.

Every year, your seasonal allergies sneak up on you. One day you’re feeling fine, and the next day you can’t stop wiping your runny nose and rubbing your itchy, watery eyes. Your allergy season has arrived.

“Allergy season” means something different to everyone, because not everybody responds to the same allergens.

Understanding which season is the most triggering for you means you can get prepared with the right treatments and save yourself a lot of trouble. And sneezing. And itching.

What are seasonal allergies?

Seasonal allergies happen when your immune system detects and reacts to a foreign substance in the great outdoors—such as pollen, grasses, ragweed, or mold spores. Those are known as your allergy triggers.

When your body picks up on one of those, it overreacts and produces too much histamine. Histamine is the chemical that causes all of those not-so-fun allergy symptoms.

Seasonal allergies go by a bunch of different names, including hay fever and allergic rhinitis. But, they all mean the same thing: You’re having an allergic reaction to an outdoor allergen.

What are seasonal allergy triggers?

In general, pollen is the most common seasonal allergy trigger. However, as the National Library of Medicine explains, pollen allergies are sparked by different types of pollen that show up during different times in the year:

  • Tree pollen: Spring
  • Grass pollen: Late spring and summer
  • Ragweed pollen: Fall

What are the most common spring allergens?

In the spring, the flowers bloom, the leaves return to the trees, and the grass gets green again. While that’s usually a welcome change after the dreariness of winter, it can also cause spring allergies.

If you notice that your allergy symptoms kick into gear when the birds start chirping, then you’re likely allergic to either tree pollen or grass pollen.

Tree pollen is usually a problem toward the beginning of spring in March, April, and the beginning of May. However, grass pollen season can extend into the summer months. It usually starts in mid-May and lasts through early or mid-July.

One important note here is that climate change may be leading to allergy seasons starting sooner and lasting longer. An article in The New York Times quotes a new study that says, “....the combination of warming air and higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has caused North American pollen seasons since 1990 to start some 20 days earlier, on average, and to have 21 percent more pollen.”

What are the most common fall allergens?

You feel great in the spring. But, as soon as the leaves begin to turn and the weather gets a little chilly, your allergy symptoms rear their ugly head. That means you’re likely allergic to ragweed pollen.

Ragweed is a plant that produces yellow flowers. While it’s pretty to look at, it can be hard on your allergies. A single ragweed plant can produce as many as one billion pollen grains—making it one of the most common fall allergy triggers. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that between 10 and 20% of Americans deal with a ragweed allergy.

Ragweed season usually begins triggering symptoms in mid-August and runs through September.

What might cause summer or winter allergies?

Spring and fall are the most common times for allergies (at least for people to talk about them). But, what if you’re sniffling and sneezing in summer? Or even winter?

There are a few allergens that can crop up during those seasons too. Like we mentioned above, grass pollen season extends into July. So, if you’re experiencing symptoms in the beginning of summer, growing grass is a common culprit.

Winter allergies likely aren’t seasonal allergies at all. Instead, you’re probably dealing with year-round (also called perennial) allergies. This means your allergic reactions have nothing to do with what’s happening outside. Instead, you’re allergic to something indoors—such as dust mites, pet dander, or mold.

How do I treat seasonal allergies?

You appreciate the changing seasons, but you wish they didn’t have to cause so much misery. Good news: They don’t have to. There are a number of different ways you can nip your allergy symptoms in the bud (or avoid them altogether), including:

Antihistamines: Antihistamines block the effects of histamine, so your symptoms aren’t as severe. You can get antihistamines as tablets, capsules, liquids, and syrups that are taken orally. There are also antihistamine gels, eyedrops, and nasal sprays.

Nasal sprays: There are several different types of allergy nasal sprays including decongestants, antihistamines, and steroids. These address your stuffy and runny nose by delivering medication directly to the source.

Allergy eye drops: If itchy and watery eyes are your problem, allergy eye drops can provide a lot of relief. Like nasal sprays, there are a number of different types available. Some you can get over the counter, and some will require a prescription.

Allergy shots: If your symptoms are severe and not well-controlled with medications, you might want to look into allergy shots. These are a series of regular injections that will reduce your reaction to an allergen by injecting a tiny amount of it into your skin. It’s enough to stimulate your immune system, but not enough to kick start a major allergic reaction.

In addition to using medications, knowing your triggers helps you make your allergy season a little more manageable.

Once you understand your typical allergy triggers and season, pay attention to your local news, as they’ll report when pollen counts are high in your area.

You can also check the National Allergy Bureau, which frequently reports pollen counts, mold counts, and other allergens, or try a pollen tracking app. If you see that your specific triggers are prevalent, those are times when you’ll want to stay indoors and keep your windows closed.

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When should I start medication to avoid my symptoms?

Alright, so medications are super effective for addressing your seasonal allergy symptoms. But, when should you take them?

Too many people make the mistake of taking an antihistamine or using a nasal spray as soon as they notice their first sniffle. Unfortunately, that’s not early enough.

These types of medications are preventative, and they should be used ahead of your usual allergy season. Harvard Medical School recommends starting a nasal spray and an antihistamine about a month before your allergy season, and then continuing use until your season is over.

If you need help figuring out what’s right for you, we can help you get a personal, allergist-picked Pack. Tell us about the symptoms and seasons that bother you most, along with a little about your experience, and we'll get you the and ongoing care you need to achieve peak relief.

Don’t let your allergy season sneak up on you

“Allergy season” means something different to everyone. Maybe your symptoms strike in the spring, while your friend is sneezing and complaining in the fall.

That’s why it’s so important to know your typical allergy season and triggers. With that information, you can get ahead of your symptoms and make your seasonal allergies at least a little bit less of a hassle.

After all, there’s such a thing as a fun surprise, but your allergy season definitely isn’t one.

ARTICLE REVIEWED BYAmina H. Abdeldaim, MD MPHPicnic Medical Director
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