What You Need to Know About Seasonal Allergies


Dr. Jason Sellers

As we enter the warmer months, along with the sun, birds chirping, and blooming flowers comes the return of pollen. For many, this also signals the start of spring allergy season, that time of year where our eyes start itching and noses start running.

Seasonal allergies can be mild or miserable, but the important thing to remember is that they are treatable and can be managed with a little bit of preparation and guidance. Keep reading to learn more!

What are seasonal allergies?

Also called “hay fever” or “allergic rhinitis,” seasonal allergies are cold-like symptoms that occur in response to specific allergens. This can include pollen from trees, grasses, or weeds, as well as mold spores which grow more when the weather is humid. While some people can breathe these particles without any issue, others have an immune response that accidentally recognizes the substance as harmful. This creates allergy symptoms, such as runny noses and watery eyes, which is the body’s attempt to remove these particles from the body. Seasonal allergies often start out in childhood, but can appear at any age and can either improve or get worse as we get older.

In the northeast, allergy symptoms come in phases: trees in the spring, grass in early summer, and weeds in late summer and early fall. For those who have allergy symptoms year-round, this can also be caused by other irritants, such as insects, dust, animals like dogs and cats, or mold which peaks at certain times but is present throughout the year.

What are the symptoms?

Different people experience allergy symptoms in different ways. This may include itchy, watery, or red eyes, stuffy or runny nose, or excessive sneezing. There may also be excess mucus production in the form of post-nasal drip, which may cause an itchy or sore throat, as well as a mild cough. Symptoms oftentimes are worse at night, and if this causes difficulty sleeping can result in feeling tired throughout the day.

How do I know if I have seasonal allergies?

Many people know because they feel cold-like symptoms every year during a specific time of year, often starting in the spring. Depending on when you experience your symptoms and where you live, you may be able to associate it with a particular allergen, such as grass. However some people have symptoms that occur less predictably, and in this case, allergy testing can be helpful to help identify the culprit. Typically allergy testing is done by a specialist called an allergist, whereby he or she will scratch a small number of various allergens on the skin of the arm to see if it turns red or bumpy. If it does, it’s likely that you are allergic to that allergen. Allergy testing is quite reliable and can help guide treatment options. If you think this would be helpful for you, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor to consider a referral.

How can I treat seasonal allergies?

There are so many ways that allergies can be treated! While our minds often go straight to those once-a-day antihistamine pills at the pharmacy, there are many other options. Non-medicated nasal sprays that include a saltwater solution known as saline can soothe the nasal passages and wash away the particles that cause allergies. Many people can actually keep their allergies at bay simply by getting into a daily routine of using a saline nasal spray, and the best part is that it doesn’t contain any medication at all! For those that need something a little stronger, nasal steroid sprays can also provide added benefits but may have side effects for some people. For those with itchy or watery eyes, the treatment is similar: while some may find benefit from simple non-medicated eye drops, others may decide to use antihistamine allergy eye drops for added effect.

While strolling through the pharmacy looking for options, there are some medications to watch out for as well. For example, decongestant pills, or antihistamines labeled with a “D,” can in some cases cause side effects and should not be taken for long periods of time without talking to your doctor. Additionally, the nasal sprays that cause instant relief of stuffy nose symptoms should never be taken for more than a day or two because they can become addictive and cause worsening nasal congestion over time. If you are on either of these medications, you should discuss it further with your doctor.

If I have allergies, do I need to be worried about COVID-19?

Unfortunately, despite the mask mandates being lifted, COVID-19 is still with us and still poses a threat, especially to those who are unvaccinated, elderly, or immunocompromised. Many allergy symptoms are also symptoms of COVID-19, and in some cases, it can be difficult to tell the two apart – especially in breakthrough infections amongst vaccinated people. The best bet is if you develop new symptoms, test yourself with an at-home rapid test, and even if the test is negative, consult with your doctor to find out whether you may be at higher risk for infection based on your symptoms, exposures, or vaccination status. While at-home rapid tests are very useful for identifying COVID-19, negative results cannot always be trusted in the first few days of symptoms and it is always best to play it safe, wear a mask, and talk to your doctor.

Can seasonal allergies be prevented?

Yes, oftentimes symptoms can be prevented altogether by starting allergy treatments several weeks before the season starts. There are also other strategies that can help you avoid the pollens and other triggers that worsen symptoms. For example, keeping windows closed and using air conditioning or air purifiers, taking a shower or washing your face before bed to remove pollen, or using hypoallergenic pillowcases to reduce dust exposure.

While allergies can be miserable, they can also be easily treated with the right combination and timing of treatments. If what you are trying is not working, or if you have questions you’d like to discuss, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment or live chat with your Radish doctor to learn more about taking control of allergies and enjoying this beautiful time of year!

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