The 6 main symptoms of summer allergies

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Allergies are a condition caused by the body’s response to foreign organisms. An allergy begins when an individual’s immune system identifies harmless organisms as threats. The body reacts to this allergen by releasing histamines and other chemicals into the bloodstream. These chemicals produce the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Allergic reactions are normally caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Environmental factors that can increase the risk of developing allergies include repeated exposure to foreign substances, diet, and pollutants (such as tobacco smoke and exhaust fumes).

Seasonal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever, affect 3 in 10 people. They are extremely common during the summer months and symptoms can range from mild to severe. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, grasses are the most common trigger for people with hay fever. Grass pollen reaches moderate to high levels in summer. Millions of people suffer from seasonal allergies triggered by airborne pollen.1

Risk factors for developing hay fever include other allergies or asthma, eczema, and a family history of allergies.

The top 6 symptoms of summer allergies include:

1. Sneezing

Sneezing is the body’s way of removing irritants from the nose or throat. Severe sneezing attacks are common when the pollen count is high.

2. Runny or stuffy nose

People with summer allergies may experience congestion and irritation of the nose, which makes it difficult to breathe through the nose. The nasal discharge from hay fever is normally thin, clear, and watery. A blocked or runny rose can lead to decreased smell or taste, difficulty sleeping, drowsiness, irritability, and problems concentrating.

3. Itchy or watery eyes

Itchy, watery eyes and red eyes are symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis. The eyes are a frequent target for allergens and irritants because they are exposed and sensitive.2

4. Itchy sinuses, throat or ear canals

The nose, ears, and throat are all connected, which means allergens can travel between them. The sinuses can become stuffy and potentially cause headaches and occasional sinus infections.

5. Ear congestion

The Eustachian tube, which connects the back of the nose to the middle ear, can fill with fluid and become infected. The main symptoms of an ear infection include earache, mild hearing loss, high temperature, and low energy.

6. Postnasal drainage

Postnasal drainage or drip refers to the feeling of mucus flowing down the back of the throat. Postnasal drip is an extremely common cause of persistent cough, sore throat, and hoarseness.

Less common symptoms include fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, cough, and wheezing. One third of hay fever patients report wheezing.3 Symptoms of summer allergies can interfere with quality of life, sleep, energy levels, and productivity.

Treating symptoms of summer allergies

Allergic reactions are first diagnosed with a medical evaluation, blood tests, and skin tests. Seasonal allergies can be treated using:

  • Antihistamines
  • Corticosteroid nasal sprays
  • Decongestants
  • Anti-inflammatory eye drops

Antihistamines are the most common over-the-counter medications used to relieve allergy symptoms. Taking antihistamines can help relieve watery eyes, runny nose, and itching. However, they can cause side effects including drowsiness, dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, difficulty urinating, confusion, and drowsiness.

Managing symptoms during the summer allergy season

The best way to prevent summer allergy symptoms is to avoid allergy triggers. Steps you can take to reduce seasonal allergy symptoms include4:

  • Reduce exposure to pollen by staying indoors when possible
  • Try not to open the windows and use the air conditioning instead
  • Washing your bedding in hot water and detergent once a week to reduce allergens
  • Regularly clean and vacuum your home
  • Wear sunglasses and a hat when you are outside to prevent pollen from entering your eyes and hair
  • Take a shower, wash your hair and change your clothes after going out
  • Take allergy medication

If symptoms are severe, the allergen cannot be avoided, and other treatments are ineffective, allergen immunotherapy may be recommended by your doctor for desensitization. It works by injecting the body with small doses of allergens over a few years to build resistance to those allergens. It is important to see a doctor if you are suffering from symptoms of summer allergies, as it is best to seek treatment before the symptoms worsen.

The references:

1. Schmidt C. (2016). Pollen overload: seasonal allergies in a changing climate. Environ Health Perspect, 124 (4), 70-75. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4829390/

2. Eye allergies (allergic conjunctivitis). (2015). Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Retrieved from: https://www.aafa.org/eye-allergy-conjunctivitis/

3. Ross A and Fleming D. (2004). Hay fever – practical problems of management. BJGP, 54 (503), 412-414. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1266197/

4. Pollen allergy (2015). Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Retrieved from: https://www.aafa.org/pollen-allergy/

Image by Bruno / Germany from Pixabay


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