As winter diminishes and balmy, warm days approach, most of us are naturally drawn to the great outdoors -- except for people with allergies. For these people the prospect of being outdoors can be uncomfortable, challenging and even downright miserable.
The most common sources of outdoor allergens are pollens, and include:
- Tree pollens -- most common during the early spring months (March-April).
- Grass pollens -- most prevalent from spring to early summer (mid-April through June).
- Weed pollens -- abundant in the summer and early fall months. Ragweed pollen in particular is the most widespread cause of fall allergy symptoms.
- Another allergen to be aware of is mold – occurring both outdoors and indoors.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis, also called “hay fever”, affects millions of people worldwide. Symptoms include sneezing, stuffiness, a runny and itchy nose, throat, eyes or ears. These allergic reactions are most commonly caused by pollen and mold spores in the air, which start a chain reaction in your immune system.
Your immune system is your body’s defense system. If you have an allergy to pollen, for instance, the immune system identifies pollen as an intruder or allergen. Your immune system then overreacts by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies travel to cells that release histamine, resulting in allergic symptoms.
Pollen -- the tiny grains needed to fertilize many kinds of plants -- is a problem for many allergy sufferers. However, pollen from plants with colorful flowers, like roses, usually do not cause allergies. These plants rely on insects to transport the pollen for fertilization. On the other hand, non-flowering plants (e.g. grasses and ragweed) produce large quantities of powdery pollen that is easily spread by wind. This powdery pollen is the cause of allergy symptoms.
Plants have a period of pollination that doesn’t vary much from year to year. However, the weather can affect the amount of pollen in the air. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is often caused by tree pollen in the early spring. During the late spring and early summer, grass pollen is the culprit. Late summer and fall hay fever is caused by ragweed and other weed pollens. In warmer climates, pollination can be year-round.
Molds -- tiny fungi related to mushrooms but without stems, roots or leaves -- are almost anywhere, including soil, plants and rotting wood. Their spores float in the air, much like pollen. Outdoor mold spores start increasing as temperatures rise in the spring. In the United States, mold spores reach their peak levels during the months of August and September. They can be found year-round in the South and on the West Coast.
The National Allergy Bureau™ (NAB™) is the nation’s only pollen and mold counting network certified by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). Find counts for your geographic region.
Locations and Various Climates
Some people think that moving to another area will help their allergy symptoms diminish. Many types of pollen (especially grasses) and molds are common to most plant zones, so moving won’t necessarily help. Besides, you’re likely to find new allergens to react to in a new location.
“Hay fever” (allergic rhinitis) symptoms are not as bad on rainy, cloudy or windless days because pollen isn’t moving about in the atmosphere as much. Pollen counts tend to be higher in bright, breezy conditions, which explains why allergy symptoms are usually worst during the most beautiful days of spring and fall.
If your seasonal allergies are making you miserable, there are options to minimize your discomfort. The best recommendation is to see your allergy/immunology specialist. With the background and experience for determining which allergens are causing your symptoms, your allergist can create a personalized treatment plan for you.
This plan will include steps to avoid contact with allergens, medications for temporary relief and possibly allergy shots (allergen immunotherapy). This treatment involves receiving regular injections given in gradually increasing doses. This helps your immune system become more resistant to the specific allergen and lessen your symptoms as well as the need for medications.
Limiting Exposure to Allergens
Follow a few simple steps to limit your exposure to the pollen or molds that cause your symptoms:
- Keep your windows closed at night and use air conditioning. It cleans, cools and dries the air.
- Try to stay indoors when the pollen or mold counts are high. If your symptoms are severe, wear a pollen mask if you’re outside for a long time.
- When you return indoors, take a shower, shampoo your hair and change clothes.
- Avoid mowing lawns or raking leaves. This stirs up pollen and molds.
- Avoid hanging sheets or clothes outside to dry.
- When traveling by car, keep the windows closed.
- Take any medications as prescribed.
To get the most accurate diagnosis and treatment for your allergies, visit your allergist to determine the extent of your allergies so that you can manage them and feel better – year round.