- Allergy vs. Cold
- When to Seek Medical Help
Allergy seasons vary in length and severity across the country, so seasonal allergies differ depending on where you live. In most areas, spring allergy season usually starts in February and lingers into early summer.
The most common seasonal allergies are as follows:
- Grass pollen allergy throughout the winter and early spring (January to early April)
- Tree pollen allergies in late spring and early summer (late April to July)
- Ragweed allergy season in the late summer and fall (August to December)
Sometimes, however, plants may pollinate early due to mild winter temperatures. And a wet spring can encourage rapid plant growth and contribute to an increase in mold, resulting in symptoms that can continue far into the fall.
What causes seasonal allergies to worsen during certain months?
Although allergy season varies by region, the following climate elements can affect the severity of your symptoms:
- Pollen from trees, grasses, and ragweed thrives on cool nights and warm days.
- Mold grows quickly in hot, humid environments.
- Pollen levels are the highest in the morning.
- Although pollen is washed away by rain, pollen counts can spike after heavy rain.
- Airborne allergens are grounded on a windless day.
- Pollen counts increase when the weather is windy and warm.
Ragweed, a plant that grows wild practically everywhere and blooms and releases pollen from August to November, is the most prevalent cause of fall allergies. Ragweed pollen levels are the highest in several parts of the country around mid-September.
Scientists aren't sure why some people have allergies and others don't. However, studies have shown that genetics and environment are both significant contributors in the development of seasonal allergies.
What are common signs and symptoms of seasonal allergies?
An allergy occurs when your immune system reacts negatively to something that would ordinarily be harmless. Allergens are substances that can trigger an allergic reaction, resulting in various symptoms ranging from mild to life-threatening, depending on the allergen.
Seasonal allergy symptoms may include:
What is the difference between an allergy and a cold?
Since allergies may cause mild, cold-like symptoms, understanding the differences between seasonal allergies and the common cold can help you identify the most appropriate treatment for your symptoms:
- Causes: Unlike allergies, the common cold is caused by a virus. Allergy symptoms are the result of the immune system's reaction to allergens such as pollen, dust, pet dander, etc.
- Symptoms: Fever, aches, and pain are common symptoms of colds that aren't usually related to allergies.
- Symptom duration: A cold usually lasts no more than 10 days, while allergies may last for months.
- Asthma: Asthma and allergies are frequently co-occurring illnesses, and many people with allergies also have asthma.
What are treatment options for allergies?
Limiting exposure to allergens is the best way to avoid allergy symptoms, although this requires understanding your allergy triggers. Closing your windows, removing pollen from your hair, skin, and clothes before coming into the house, etc. may help you reduce the amount of allergens you are exposed to on a daily basis.
Medications may also help in treating allergies:
- Antihistamines: Reduce symptoms by inhibiting the release of mast cell histamines, and may come in nasal or ocular spray form.
- Intranasal corticosteroid nasal sprays (INCS): Used for mild to severe symptoms; higher doses may require a prescription.
- Combination therapy (INCS and antihistamine): Combines the benefits of both drugs and is used to treat moderate to severe allergic rhinitis.
- Adrenaline (epinephrine): Commonly used in auto-injector form to treat life-threatening severe allergic responses in the event of a first-aid emergency (anaphylaxis).
- Allergen immunotherapy (also called desensitization): Long-term treatment method that alters how the immune system reacts to allergens and involves injecting or administering sublingual tablets, sprays, or drops with regular, progressively increasing doses of allergen extracts.
When to seek medical help for allergies
If you've tried everything to keep your allergies under control but you can’t find relief from your symptoms, speak to your doctor.
While symptoms such as a runny nose or sneezing are not dangerous, if they become severe enough that you find it difficult to breathe, you should seek emergency medical attention immediately.
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