What are the most common allergy symptoms? How do I know if it's allergies or a common cold? If you are asking the above, you have come to the right place! In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about allergies, from allergens to diagnoses to treatment options. Please also take a quiz using our smart allergies symptom checker to determine if you have allergies, cold or something else.
Everyone is different which is why we prepared the quiz for you, but common allergy symptoms include the following:
- Runny nose
- Itchy nose
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy eyes
- Watery eyes
- Under-eye dark circles
- Itchy throat
- Ear congestion
- Postnasal drainage
- Itchy sinuses or ear canals
Allergies affect each individual differently. You may experience less common symptoms as well such as:
- Headache (read reasons for sudden or persistent headache)
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing (read how a doctor differentiates serious vs non-serious cough)
Many people with hay fever suffer from asthma as well. If you have comorbid condition of hay fever and asthma, your seasonal allergens may result to an asthma attack.
Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter Allergies
Seasonal allergies overview (hay fever)
Seasonal allergic rhinitis is frequently referred to as hay fever. Roughly eight percent of Americans suffer from hay fever according to the data from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
Hay fever’s name originated from the fact that a number of people experience symptoms roughly the same time as the historical hay-cutting season that occurs in summer months. Hay fever occurs when your immune system wrongly identifies a commonly harmless airborne substance as dangerous. It reacts to that substance, or allergen, by giving off histamines and other chemicals into your bloodstream. These chemicals discharged into the bloodstream result in symptoms of an allergic reaction.
The most common spring allergy trigger is pollen. Trees, grasses, and weeds discharge their tiny grains into the air to fertilize other plants. When they enter the nose of an individual who's allergic, they disorient the individual's bodily defense system.
Seasonal allergies are not very common during the winter, but it’s possible to suffer from allergic rhinitis throughout the year as different plants produce their own pollens at special times. Depending on where you live and what is triggering your allergic reactions, you may experience hay fever in more than one season. You may also react to indoor allergens, like mold or pet dander.
Common triggers of hay fever may differ according to the different seasons of the year.
Trees are the cause of a good number of springtime seasonal allergies. Birch is one of the most common triggers in northern latitudes, where a lot of people with hay fever react to its pollen. Other allergenic trees in North America are cedar, alder, horse chestnut, willow, and poplar.
The origin of hay fever comes from the hay-cutting season in summer months, in which many people suffer from symptoms at the same time. The main trigger of hay fever in summer months are grasses, like ryegrass and Timothy-grass, together with a number of weeds.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America states that grasses are the most widespread trigger for individuals with hay fever.
Autumn is a season for ragweed. It is also well-known as Ambrosia, and is made up of more than forty species globally. The majority of them grow in temperate regions of North and South America. They’re invasive plants that can grow uncontrollably. They produce pollen that commonly results in allergic reactions of those nearby. The symptoms of a ragweed allergy can be rather serious. Other plants that produce pollen in the fall are nettles, mugworts, sorrels, fat hens, and plantains.
During winter, the majority of outdoor allergens are inactive. Due to this, many people who suffer from hay fever get relief. However, during the winter season, people tend to spend more time indoors. Therefore, individuals who suffer from seasonal allergies may also react to indoor allergens, like mold, pet dander, dust mites, or cockroaches.
However, it is easier to eliminate indoor allergens. Follow the tips below to eliminate common indoor allergens:
- Wash your bed spreads and pillow cases in very hot water at least once a week
- Use allergen-proof covers to cover your bedding and pillows
- Eliminate or limit carpets and upholstered furniture
- Get rid of stuffed toys from your children’s bedrooms: Or buy hypoallergenic ones
- Repair water leaks and clean up water damage that can make it easy for mold and pests to grow
- Clean surfaces that contain mold: Try to also clean places that are likely to cause mold like humidifiers, swamp coolers, air conditioners, and refrigerators.
- Make use of a dehumidifier: This can minimize excess moisture.
Allergies vs Cold?
The biggest spring allergy trigger is pollen. Pollens from trees, grasses, flowers, and weeds are released into the air in order to fertilize other plants. They can travel for miles, meaning it is not necessarily just the plants in your area. While this process is beneficial for plants' survival, it is inconvenient, to say the least, for people with allergies. When these pollens get into the nose of someone who is allergic, they cause the person to release histamines into the blood that lead to symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes, and more. This is because our immune system mistakenly interprets pollen as dangerous and releases antibodies that attack the allergens. For people with spring allergies, it is important to know that pollen count tends to be higher on windy days and lower on rainy days when the pollen is washed away.
Mold is also a common spring allergy trigger that spreads like pollen. Mold causes allergies that start in spring and can last even into the fall season. Outdoor molds, such as Alternaria, Cladosporium, and Hormodendrun are released by the wind. However, indoor mold can also cause spring allergies, such as Aspergillus and Penicillium.
Grass and weeds
Grass and weed pollen tend to trigger spring allergies in the later part of the season that continues into summertime. Many people are allergic to the pollen in grass and don’t even realize it. It brings on typical allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes, cough, and runny nose. Grass pollen allergies are most likely at their peak during sunny, windy, dry days. An allergy test or seeing a doctor can help you learn about grass pollen and understand if you are allergic.
Grasses and weeds that cause allergic reactions include the following:
- Perennial rye
- Sweet vernal
Condition tend to be the worst on windy days when the wind picks up these sneeze-inducing grains and transfers them through the air. Rainy days wash away the allergens and reduce the effects.
Allergens and Causes
To better understand your symptoms, consult a doctor. Usually, you will be referred to an allergist who will be able to run the appropriate tests. One test that is done is called a skin test, where the doctor pricks your skin and puts a tiny amount of allergen on the skin to see if a reaction occurs. Your doctor may also diagnose you with other conditions related to allergies, such as Hay Fever and Asthma.
The symptoms of seasonal allergies can be very uncomfortable. Hay Fever, or allergic rhinitis, is an allergic response to indoor and outdoor allergens, especially in the spring season. Hay fever is typically easier to diagnose than other allergies. If you have allergic symptoms that only occur at specific periods of the year, it’s an indication that you are suffering from seasonal allergic rhinitis. Your doctor may as well check your ears, nose, and throat to make a diagnosis.
Allergy testing typically isn’t essential. Your treatment for allergic rhinitis will likely be the same, regardless of the type of allergen you react to.
Hay fever causes symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing, and sinus pressure to occur. It can also make you experience symptoms such as fatigue, coughing, and swollen, blue-colored skin under the eyes. Pollen and spores from indoor and outdoor mold are big triggers for hay fever. It is important to consult a doctor for treating hay fever if you do not find relief from the symptoms with medication, or if you have another condition that can worsen hay fever symptoms, such as nasal polyps, asthma, or frequent sinus infections. However, hay fever is treatable. Many people get the best relief from a combination of allergy medications. Talk to your doctor about which is the best option for you.
Spring allergies can also trigger symptoms of asthma, making it harder to breathe. Pollen, mold, air pollution, and rising temperatures are all triggers that can even lead to an asthma attack. The allergies affect your lungs, nose, and throat, all making it difficult to take in clean air. However, you can still enjoy the beautiful spring weather even with allergy-induced asthma. Always check the outdoor air quality, protect yourself with a mask when gardening outside, wear long sleeves to avoid bug bites, and take your asthma or allergy medication when needed.
From medication to household habits, there are many ways you can alleviate your allergy symptoms. The best medicine for hay fever and year-round allergic rhinitis is avoidance. Medications are also available to treat symptoms of hay fever. Some people also try alternative treatments.
There are steps you can take to avoid seasonal allergens. For example, you can use an air conditioner with a HEPA filter to cool your home during summer, instead of using of ceiling fans. You can also check what your local weather forecast says about pollen, and make efforts to remain indoors when pollen counts are high. At periods of the year when you are predisposed to hay fever:
- Try to keep your windows shut
- Limit the amount of time you spend outdoors
- Try to put on a dust mask when you’re outside: Particularly on windy days
It’s also essential to stay away from cigarette smoke, which can worsen the symptoms of hay fever.
Medication for seasonal allergies
When you can’t avoid your allergens, there are sets of other treatments you can access, including:
- Over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines: Like cetirizine (Zyrtec) and combinations of acetaminophen, diphenhydramine, and phenylephrine (Benadryl)
- Prescription medications: Like steroid nasal sprays
In acute hay fever situations, your doctor may recommend that you take allergy shots. They’re a type of immunotherapy that can assist to desensitize your immune system to allergens.
Some allergy medications may come with undesirable side effects, like drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion.
Allergy shots are one of the most effective ways to treat seasonal allergies. These injections increase your tolerance to the allergens by slowly exposing you to them over time. This helps your body understand and tolerate them instead of showing symptoms such as stuffy nose, itchiness, or watery eyes.
Nasal sprays help clear blocked nasal passages and relieve symptoms such as congestion and sniffling. Sprays work faster than oral decongestants without some of the side effects tablets have. Steroid nasal sprays are considered to be the preferred initial treatment for seasonal allergies. Budesonide (Rhinocort Allergy), fluticasone (Flonase), and triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24H) are the only steroid nasal sprays available over-the-counter. Other sprays can be attained by visiting your doctor.
Eye drops such as ketotifen (Zaditor) can be bought over-the-counter to relieve seasonal allergy symptoms such itchy, watery eyes.
Antihistamines can help by lowering the amount of histamines in your system, which helps relieve you from symptoms such as sniffling, sneezing, and itching. These can come in tablet or spray form.
Decongestants alleviate congestion by shrinking the blood vessels in your nasal passageways. These can come in tablet or spray form.
Alternative treatments for seasonal allergies
Few studies have been carried out on alternative treatments for hay fever. A number of people believe the following alternative treatments may provide relief as well:
- Quercetin: A flavonoid which provides fruits and vegetables with their natural color.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus: The “friendly” bacteria present in yogurt.
- Spirulina: This is a particular type of blue-green algae.
- Vitamin C: Due to its marked antihistamine properties
Lifestyles changes can also help you during the springtime to address your allergy symptoms:
- Wear big sunglasses: Sunglasses can help prevent allergens from flying into your eyes.
- Keep your doors and windows shut as often as you can: This can prevent pollen and outside mold from entering your home and car.
- Take showers after you have been outside: This will allow you to rinse off any pollen that may have fallen onto your hair or body. You should also wash your clothes immediately.
- Learn about which type of pollen or mold you are allergic to: Avoid areas where levels are higher.
- Run your air conditioner with a good air filter
- Vacuum regularly in the springtime: This can help get all the allergens out of your carpet.
- Use a nasal and saline wash: This can flush out any allergens that have entered your passages.
- Look at weather reports to understand and monitor pollen and mold counts
Many people welcome the warm, sunny weather of spring. Longer days give us more opportunity to be active outside and enjoy our surroundings. However, there likely isn't anyone who is particularly excited with what comes with the warm breeze: seasonal allergies. Nevertheless, knowing some of the sources of these allergies and how to treat them can help you reduce your exposure and your symptoms. It is always important to be informed, learn about your symptoms, and consult a doctor if symptoms get worse.
Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.