Suddenly have the sneezes and sniffles? You may not be ill. Spring allergies often arrive with warmer weather. Allergens and allergy seasons vary across the country; however, for the most part, they start in February and last through early summer.1
No matter their form or timing, they make millions miserable. In 2012, 17.6 million adults and 6.6 million children were reportedly diagnosed with hay fever in the previous 12 months, according to a National Health Interview Survey. While you may have general knowledge about allergies, what causes them and how to treat them, we’d like to shed some light on sometimes overlooked facts about allergies.
1. There’s no fever in hay fever.
Hay fever, another term for allergic rhinitis, is commonly triggered by grasses and pollen in the spring. It seems to present itself like a cold or the flu, which can be confusing since the spring allergy season and flu season overlap. However, there is a definite distinction between these conditions.
In general, allergy symptoms kick in fast (as opposed to over the course of a few days), linger for longer than a week, don’t include fever and aches, and involve a runny nose with clear mucus.2 Allergies cannot be cured, but they be treated numerous ways (e.g., taking over-the-counter and prescription medications, minimizing contact with allergens, managing one’s environment).
2. Pollen may get the limelight, but it’s not the only player.
Classic seasonal allergies include the trifecta of grass, pollen and mold.3 However, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reminds us that there are additional allergy triggers associated with certain times of year. In spring and summer, this may include smoke from campfires, insect bites and stings, and chlorine from swimming pools.4 Work with a doctor or allergist to identify what triggers reactions for you—or your children—and how to manage symptoms.
3. Allergies can enter your life any time.
It’s a common situation. You start to experience the symptoms listed above and think you have a cold you just can’t shake. Someone suggests, “Maybe it’s allergies.” You scoff. Definitely not. You’re 38 years old and never experienced them. But it could be.
Even if you never suffered from seasonal allergies before, you can develop them now or in the future. Oftentimes, allergies are genetic.5 Despite a predisposition to them, you may not experience symptoms until you’ve reached your threshold for exposure.6
- Being around higher levels of pollution
- Getting a pet
- Moving somewhere with a higher concentration of allergens (e.g., elsewhere in the country, a home with mold)
- Experiencing hormonal changes due to pregnancy and menopause
- Developing a more sensitive immune system with age or due to illness
4. Closed windows won’t completely shut out allergies.
You may take refuge in your home when pollen counts hit a high, so make sure it’s truly a safe zone. Simply shutting your windows is a start, but it’s not enough. James Sublett, MD, current president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, told WebMD that even with your windows shut, due to your home’s ventilation, “about one-third of what’s outside gets inside no matter what you do.”9 As such, it is important to minimize the circulation of allergens in your home. Recommendations include the following10:
- Get a high-efficiency furnace filter—MERV level 11 or 12—and change it twice a year, both in early spring and in early summer.
- Use a HEPA filter on your vacuum.
- Invest in a HEPA air filter.
- Don’t use vaporizers and humidifiers.
Also be sure to keep air conditioning units clean to prevent circulating pollen, dust and dirt when you run them. Keep your home clean and free of mold and dust, too.
5. Track pollen counts; there’s an app for that.
Like the weather, allergies have a forecast. You can usually get information on pollen counts and seasonal allergies from your local news or national weather websites—weather.com offers both an allergy tracker and pollen forecast). This can help you plan ahead and manage your allergies before they really flare up. There are also many smartphone apps to help keep you informed.
- You can also download allergy apps to help control your symptoms. Both pollen.com and weather.com offer apps. Other popular apps include:
- AllergyManager by IMS Health, Inc.
- Pollen.com’s Allergy Alert
- WebMD’s Allergy app
- Zyrtec’s AllergyCast with Symptom Tracker
If you suffer from seasonal allergies or suspect you’ve developed them, schedule an appointment with a medical professional. Doctors and allergists can help diagnose your condition, identify your triggers, prescribe medications, and suggest other ways to manage your symptoms.
1American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. “Common Seasonal Allergy Triggers.” N.D. http://acaai.org/allergies/types/seasonal
2USA.gov. “Winter Cold — or Spring Allergies? [Blog].” March 13, 2012. http://blog.usa.gov/post/19240063355/winter-cold-or-spring-allergies
3American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. “Common Seasonal Allergy Triggers.” N.D. http://acaai.org/allergies/types/seasonal
5Mitchell, Heidi. “Why Do Some People Develop Allergies as Adults?” The Wall Street Journal. May 26, 2014. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303749904579580450098114122
6Stewart, Kristen. “Adults Aren’t Immune from First-Time Allergies.” Reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH. Last updated Jan. 9, 2015. http://www.everydayhealth.com/allergies/understanding-adult-onset-allergies.aspx
8Mitchell, Heidi. “Why Do Some People Develop Allergies as Adults?” The Wall Street Journal. May 26, 2014. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303749904579580450098114122
9Shaw, Gina. “5 Ways to Beat Spring Allergies.” WebMD Magazine. Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD. http://www.webmd.com/allergies/features/5-ways-to-beat-spring-allergies?page=3