Dealing with allergies can be a frustrating experience, but there are ways to alleviate symptoms quickly and prevent future symptoms. To achieve fast and long-term relief, it's essential to identify allergens, select the right treatments, and follow preventive measures. Keep reading to learn about the various ways to manage seasonal allergies, including natural remedies, over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications, and allergy immunotherapy.
What Are Seasonal Allergies?
Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, are the body's immune response to certain airborne substances, typically pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. These allergens enter the body through the nose, eyes, and mouth, causing the immune system to mistakenly identify them as harmful invaders.
What Causes Seasonal Allergies?
To protect itself, the body releases chemicals called histamines, which in turn trigger allergy symptoms. These symptoms often include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itchy or watery eyes, and scratchy throat. The severity and duration of these symptoms vary from person to person and depend on the allergen exposure.
Pollen is the most common allergen responsible for seasonal allergies. Trees, grasses, and weeds release tiny pollen particles into the air to fertilize other plants. When people with allergies inhale these particles, their immune system reacts and releases chemicals like histamine, causing allergy symptoms. Pollen from different plants is released during distinct seasons. Tree pollen is generally released in the spring, grass pollen is most prevalent in late spring and summer, and weed pollen is usually at its peak during late summer and fall.
Another significant cause of seasonal allergies is mold. Molds are fungi that thrive in damp, warm, and humid conditions. They release spores into the air, which can trigger allergic reactions in some people. Mold growth occurs both indoors and outdoors, and levels tend to be higher during the warmer and wetter months.
What Impacts Seasonal Allergies?
A variety of factors can impact the severity of seasonal allergies, including seasons, locations, and air quality. Additionally, genetics, age, and overall health can also impact the severity of seasonal allergies. Understanding how these factors can exacerbate allergy symptoms can make it easier for you to manage your symptoms.
Seasonal allergy symptoms can be influenced by weather conditions. Temperature, humidity, and wind can all impact the levels of allergens in the air. For example, warm and windy days can cause pollen to spread more easily, leading to increased allergy symptoms. On the other hand, rain can help wash pollen away, providing temporary relief.
The prevalence of certain allergens can vary depending on the region. Some areas might have higher pollen counts from specific plants or higher mold spore levels due to the local climate or vegetation. Consequently, the severity of seasonal allergies can vary depending on where a person lives.
Poor air quality and pollution can exacerbate seasonal allergy symptoms. Pollutants like car exhaust, smog, and industrial emissions can irritate the airways, making them more sensitive to allergens. In urban areas, where pollution levels tend to be higher, people with allergies may experience more severe symptoms.
Do Allergies Go Away?
Seasonal allergies can indeed go away over time. However, the timeline and likelihood of this happening can vary significantly from person to person. Factors that influence the duration and severity of seasonal allergies include age, genetics, environmental factors, and the specific allergens involved.
In many cases, children and teenagers with seasonal allergies may find that their symptoms lessen or disappear altogether as they grow older. This improvement can be attributed to a natural process called allergen tolerance, wherein the immune system becomes less reactive to allergens with repeated exposure. It's worth noting that while some people may experience a complete resolution of their allergies, others might only notice a reduction in symptom severity.
A change in the environment may also contribute to the alleviation of seasonal allergies. Relocating to an area with fewer or different allergens can lead to a reduction in symptoms. Similarly, if the environment undergoes significant changes, such as a reduction in pollen levels due to urbanization, you may notice a decrease in allergy symptoms.
Lifestyle changes, such as adopting a healthier diet, getting regular exercise, and managing stress, may help to strengthen the immune system and reduce the severity of your symptoms. Additionally, using a high-efficiency particulate air purifier and regularly cleaning living spaces can help minimize symptoms.
How Long Do Seasonal Allergies Last?
Seasonal allergies can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the specific allergen and the duration of its presence in the environment. The length of each allergy season varies based on the following factors:
- Geographic location: The duration of allergy seasons is influenced by the local climate and plant species in a given area. For example, in warmer climates, pollen seasons may start earlier and last longer than in colder regions.
- Weather patterns: Rain, temperature, and humidity can impact the duration of allergy seasons. Pollen levels tend to be higher on warm, dry, and windy days, while rain can help wash pollen away, providing temporary relief. Prolonged periods of rain or drought can also affect plant growth and, consequently, pollen production.
- Climate change: With shifting weather patterns and warmer temperatures, allergy seasons may extend further than they have in the past. This can result in longer periods of exposure to allergens and, subsequently, longer-lasting seasonal allergies.
How to Prevent Seasonal Allergies?
Preventing seasonal allergies can be achieved by reducing exposure to common allergens and strengthening the immune system. Here are some strategies to help minimize symptoms:
- Monitor the pollen counts: Stay informed about local pollen levels through weather websites or apps. Limit outdoor activities when the pollen count is high, typically during early morning and late afternoon.
- Create a pollen-free environment: Your indoor air quality is very important. Keep windows and doors closed during high pollen times. Use air conditioning with a HEPA filter to remove allergens from indoor air. Clean air filters and ducts regularly and consider using air purifiers with a HEPA filter as well.
- Practice good personal hygiene: Shower and wash your hair after spending time outdoors. Change clothes and avoid wearing outdoor shoes inside the house to minimize tracking pollen indoors.
- Use protective gear: Wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to shield your eyes and face from pollen. If necessary, use a pollen mask when performing outdoor tasks like gardening.
- Manage indoor allergens: Regularly vacuum and dust your home to remove allergens. Use allergy-proof covers on mattresses, pillows, and box springs to minimize exposure to dust mites.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle: A balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep can help strengthen the immune system, making it less susceptible to allergies.
- Allergy-proof your bedroom: Use allergen-proof pillow and mattress covers to create a barrier against dust mites and other allergens. Keep pets out of the bedroom, as their fur can carry pet dander and other allergens like dust mites.
How to Limit Exposure
Avoiding allergens is one of the best ways to manage allergy symptoms. Here's how to avoid allergy triggers and reduce the impact of allergic rhinitis:
- Adjust outdoor activities: You can avoid exposure by scheduling outdoor tasks such as gardening, exercising, or yard work for times when pollen levels are lower.
- Regularly clean home surfaces: Wipe down surfaces such as countertops, furniture, and floors with a damp cloth to remove pollen and other allergens that may have entered your home.
- Care for pets: Pets can track pollen and pet dander into your home on their fur. Bathe and groom them regularly, and consider designating specific pet-free areas in the house, such as your bedroom.
- Opt for allergy-friendly plants: If you have a garden or maintain outdoor plants, choose species that produce less pollen.
- Avoid line-drying clothes: Dry your laundry in a dryer or indoors to prevent pollen from collecting on fabrics. This includes bed linens, clothing, and towels.
Natural remedies for allergies are an increasingly popular method of managing allergy symptoms. These remedies can provide some relief for those suffering from allergic rhinitis without the side effects associated with conventional medications. Consult your doctor before using any alternative treatment methods to make sure they don’t interact with any medications you’re taking and won’t cause side effects.
Natural antihistamines can block the action of histamine, the chemical your immune system produces in response to allergens. One of the most popular natural antihistamines is quercetin. It's a flavonoid found in many fruits, vegetables, and grains and helps stabilize mast cells and prevent the release of histamine.
Bromelain, an enzyme derived from pineapple, is another natural antihistamine that can reduce inflammation and congestion. Vitamin C also has antihistamine properties and can help boost the immune system, making it an effective remedy for allergies.
- Benefits: It can help reduce your allergic reactions by blocking the release of histamine.
- Side effects/risks: High doses of vitamin C may cause gastrointestinal side effects such as diarrhea, and quercetin can interact with certain medications.
Probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, have been linked to improved immune function and a reduced risk of allergies. Studies have shown that certain strains of probiotics, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, can help balance the immune system and reduce allergic inflammation. These probiotics are available in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi. They're also available in supplements.
- Benefits: Can support a healthy immune system and reduce inflammation, potentially reducing symptoms such as nasal congestion and runny nose.
- Side effects/risks: Some people may experience gastrointestinal side effects such as bloating or gas.
Herbal remedies are another popular choice for treating seasonal allergies. Butterbur, a plant native to Europe, is as effective as some antihistamine medications. Stinging nettle has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antihistamine effects, helping to alleviate itching, sneezing, and congestion. Moreover, rosmarinic acid, found in herbs like rosemary and holy basil, possesses both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It's also a potential natural remedy for allergic rhinitis.
- Benefits: Some herbs, such as butterbur, may be effective in reducing symptoms such as nasal congestion.
- Side effects/risks: Some herbs may have side effects or interact with medications, so it's essential to talk to a healthcare professional before using them.
Nasal irrigation involves using a saline solution in a neti pot or nasal spray to flush out allergens and mucus from the nasal passages. This irrigation provides relief from congestion and other symptoms. This natural remedy is generally safe and can be easily incorporated into a daily routine during allergy season. Use distilled or sterilized water, and always follow the manufacturer's instructions for proper use and cleaning of the device.
- Benefits: Can help relieve congestion and post-nasal drip.
- Side effects/risks: It's essential to use sterile equipment and water to avoid the risk of infection.
OTC allergy medicine can provide temporary relief for seasonal allergy symptoms. Here are the different types of OTC allergy medications, along with their working timeframes and main side effects.
Antihistamines work by blocking the action of histamine, a chemical released by the immune system in response to allergens. They can help alleviate symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and itching.
OTC antihistamines are available in various forms, including liquid and oral medication, as well as nasal sprays. Oral antihistamines include cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin), and fexofenadine (Allegra).
These medications typically start working within one to two hours and can provide symptom relief for up to 24 hours. Side effects may include drowsiness, dry mouth, dizziness, and headache. However, newer-generation antihistamines are generally less sedating than older ones.
Decongestants help relieve nasal congestion by narrowing blood vessels in the nasal passages, reducing swelling and mucus production. Common OTC decongestants include pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine).
These allergy medications are available in oral and nasal spray forms. Decongestants usually start working within 30 minutes and can provide relief for up to 12 hours, depending on the formulation.
Side effects may include increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, nervousness, and difficulty sleeping. Note that decongestant nasal sprays should not be used for more than three consecutive days, as they can cause rebound congestion.
Corticosteroid Nasal Sprays
Corticosteroid nasal sprays help reduce inflammation and can alleviate symptoms such as congestion, sneezing, and runny nose. Examples include fluticasone (Flonase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort).
These medications usually start working within a few hours, but it may take several days of consistent use to reach their full effect. Side effects can include nasal irritation, dryness, and nosebleeds, although these are generally mild and resolve on their own.
Before you start taking allergy medications, remember that OTC medications only manage symptoms temporarily and do not provide long-term relief like immunotherapy.
If you have severe allergic reactions, OTC medications may not be effective. Prescription medications provide additional options for managing symptoms. We’ll discuss what options your primary care doctor may suggest and their main side effects.
Prescription antihistamines, such as desloratadine (Clarinex) and levocetirizine (Xyzal), provide potent symptom relief. They typically work within one to two hours, and side effects may include drowsiness, dry mouth, dizziness, and headache.
Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists
Leukotriene receptor antagonists, like montelukast (Singulair), block inflammatory chemicals contributing to allergy symptoms. They usually start working within a few hours, and side effects can include headache, dizziness, stomach pain, and, rarely, mood changes or sleep disturbances.
Prescription Nasal Sprays
Prescription corticosteroid nasal sprays, such as mometasone (Nasonex) and budesonide (Rhinocort), offer stronger symptom relief. They typically start working within a few hours, and side effects can include nasal irritation, dryness, and nosebleeds.
Allergy immunotherapy offers a long-term treatment approach to allergy relief. This treatment exposes the body to gradually increasing allergen amounts, building tolerance. Two main types of allergy immunotherapy are allergy shots and sublingual immunotherapy.
Allergy shots, or subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT), involve injecting allergens under the skin. The treatment begins with a build-up phase, where patients typically receive weekly injections with increasing allergen doses. Upon reaching the maintenance phase, healthcare providers administer injections every two to four weeks for three to five years. Allergy shots effectively reduce allergy symptoms and medication needs, with benefits often lasting for years after treatment.
Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) delivers allergens as a tablet or liquid under the tongue. SLIT is taken daily, at home. Treatment starts with low doses and gradually increases until a maintenance dose is reached. Treatment typically lasts for three to five years. SLIT is just as effective as allergy shots but is a convenient, needle-free alternative.
How to Get Long-Term Relief?
When considering long-term relief for allergic rhinitis, sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) stands out as a highly effective method. Unlike conventional medications that temporarily relieve symptoms, SLIT aims to address the root cause of allergies by increasing the body's tolerance to allergens. SLIT offers several advantages as a long-term solution for seasonal allergies:
- Effectiveness: Studies have shown that SLIT can effectively ease symptoms and decrease the need for medications, providing long-lasting relief.
- Safety: SLIT has fewer side effects compared to allergy shots and has a reduced risk of causing severe allergic reactions.
- Convenience: Since SLIT is less likely to cause severe allergic reactions, it can be safely self-administered at home, eliminating the need for frequent visits to a healthcare provider, as is the case with allergy shots. After getting allergy shots at the doctor’s office, patients typically need to wait at least 30 minutes afterward to be monitored for severe allergic reactions.
- Needle-free: As a non-invasive treatment, SLIT is a great treatment option for children and anyone who may be uncomfortable with frequent injections.
When to See a Doctor for Allergies
Recognizing when to consult a doctor for allergies is essential for proper diagnosis and treatment. Consider seeking professional help in the following situations:
- Severe symptoms: Seek immediate medical attention for severe allergic reactions such as difficulty breathing, constant congestion, or recurring sinus infections.
- Unidentified allergens: If you're unsure about the cause of your allergies, a doctor can perform tests to identify the specific allergens, helping you take appropriate preventive measures and receive targeted treatment.
- Persistent symptoms: If OTC medications and self-care measures fail to provide relief, a healthcare professional can recommend stronger medications or alternative treatments.
- Lifestyle impact: If allergies disrupt your daily life, sleep, or work, a healthcare professional can develop a tailored treatment plan to improve your well-being.
- Related health conditions: Consult a doctor if you have conditions like asthma or eczema that can worsen due to allergies.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
If you want to get rid of your allergies and live allergy-free, choose Wyndly. Our allergy doctors will work with you to identify your allergy triggers and will create a personalized treatment plan to help you enjoy an improved quality of life, free from allergy symptoms. Take our quick online allergy assessment today to see how Wyndly can help!