Symptoms of spring allergies


The Most Common Spring Allergies

This year, many U.S. regions experienced warmer-than-normal winters, which gave trees in those areas an early start at pollenating.

Mold, which is considered a year-round allergy, can also wreak havoc in spring. This is especially true when damp and rainy conditions, followed by warmer weather, lead to a high concentration of mold.

Spring Allergies: Tree Pollen

Trees cause allergies because they produce small pollen cells that are light and dry, and can be carried far by the spring breeze.

Eleven types of trees are common triggers of hay fever in spring, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology:

  • Oak
  • Western red cedar
  • Sycamore
  • Maple
  • Elm
  • Birch
  • Ash
  • Cypress
  • Walnut
  • Hickory
  • Poplar

These trees release pollen around the same time every year. If you’re allergic to any of them, when their pollen is in the air you’ll start sneezing, experience congestion, and feel itchy eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.

You’ll get some relief from spring allergy symptoms on rainy or cloudy days, or when there’s no wind to make the pollen airborne. But when the weather is warm and dry, and especially when the wind picks up, allergies are likely to become worse.

Spring Allergies: Mold

Mold spores work in a similar way. Mold, such as yeast and mildew, releases seeds called spores that are carried by the wind. They’re very abundant in the air outside and tend to cause the worst allergy symptoms from spring through fall.

Outdoor molds include Alternaria, Cladosporium, and Hormodendrun. Mold can also be found inside your home; indoor molds include Aspergillus and Penicillium.

Mold also causes typical allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, congestion, a runny nose, or watery eyes that are itchy.

Getting Relief From Spring Allergies

Your best defense from spring allergies is to keep your doors and windows closed, use allergy filters on your air conditioning unit, wash your clothes and take a shower after you’ve been exposed to pollen and mold spores, and avoid doing yard work or exercising outdoors on days when pollen counts are high. You can also talk to your doctor or allergist about treatment options.

Allergies Diagnoses

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

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

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

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

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.

Is It a Spring Cold, or Are These Symptoms of Allergies?

Do you think it’s another spring cold, or could you be experiencing symptoms of allergies? Seasonal allergies can come on at any age, so don’t count them out.

Perhaps you’ve been dealing with the symptoms of allergies for many seasons now, but if you’re experiencing watery eyes, a runny nose, and sneezing for the first time and you’re wondering what’s going on, you’re not alone.

Surprisingly enough, seasonal allergies can strike at any age. When you experience them as an older adult, they can be particularly problematic because you may have other health conditions that allergies can exacerbate.

Treating symptoms of allergies in older adults can also be an issue. Antihistamines, the drugs most commonly prescribed to treat allergies, can have negative side effects for seniors. These include confusion, drowsiness, dry mouth and eyes, and dizziness. However, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, there are so-called “second generation” and “third generation” antihistamines that cause fewer side effects and may be safe for seniors to take. If you’re unsure which product may be right for you, talk with your physician or your Rite Aid Pharmacist.

Allergy Triggers and Symptoms

While pollen and grass may never have bothered you before, for reasons medical professionals are not sure of, they may start to trigger irritating allergy symptoms just as you’re settling into retirement. Other common triggers, depending on the time of year, include weeds, smog, mold, and dust mites.

Many people may be tempted to attribute their symptoms to a cold, especially if they’ve never had allergies before. Symptoms such as sneezing, a runny nose, and coughing are similar to symptoms of a cold, but colds often may be accompanied by body aches, yellow mucus, and a sore throat. Allergy symptoms may include:

  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Dark circles under eyes

How to Manage or Treat Allergy Symptoms

You can take precautions to minimize or prevent your exposure to allergy triggers or take over-the-counter remedies to help relieve your symptoms. Precautions include the following:

  • Stay inside when the pollen count is very high. Mornings tend to be peak time for pollen exposure.
  • Keep doors and windows closed during allergy season(s).
  • Wash your hair and hands after going outside.
  • Vacuum often.
  • Wear sunglasses when you are outdoors to keep pollen and other airborne irritants out of your eyes.

Over-the-counter remedies (that don’t contain antihistamines) that may reduce or relieve allergy symptoms include the following:

  • Oral decongestants, such as Sudafed, can help relieve nasal congestion quickly (though temporarily).
  • Nasal spray decongestants, such as Afrin, constrict blood vessels and reduce the blood flow to help clear congestion and improve breathing. (Remember that nasal spray decongestants should not be used for more than three consecutive days because, after that, they can start to worsen symptoms.)
  • Steroid nasal sprays, like Flonase Allergy Relief, are prescription-strength allergy medications that are available over the counter and provide 24-hour relief for both nasal congestion and eye symptoms.
  • Allergy eye drops, such as Visine-A and Naphcon A can help relieve dryness, redness, and itchiness.
  • Saline rinses and devices often come in kits together, like the NeilMed NasaFlo Irrigation Device kit. Together, they can help cleanse your nasal passages of allergens. Before using a saline rinse, be sure to read the directions carefully and always follow proper cleaning protocols.

Consult with your Rite Aid Pharmacist to find the best remedy for your symptoms. If your allergies don’t respond to over-the-counter remedies, your doctor may order a prescription-strength medication, steroid spray, or allergy shot.

By Joelle Klein


American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Medications and Older Adults

Medscape, Allergies in the Aging, How to Help a Senior Safely Survive Allergy Season

WebMD, Adult-Onset Allergies

Medical Alert Device, Seasonal Allergies and Seniors

WebMD, Allergies Health Center

Mayo Clinic, Allergy Medications: Know Your Options

Doctors and researchers prefer the phrase allergic rhinitis to describe the condition. More than 50 million people experience some type of allergy each year, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. In 2017, 8.1% of adults and 7.7% of children reported have allergic rhinitis symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Worldwide, between 10 and 30% of people are affected by allergic rhinitis, Josephson said.

In 2019, spring arrived early in some parts of the country and later in others, according to the National Phenology Network (NPN). Spring brings blooming plants and, for some, lots of sneezing, itchy, watery eyes and runny noses. According to NPN data, spring reared its head about two weeks early in areas of California, Nevada and many of the Southern and Southeastern states. Much of California, for example, is preparing for a brutal allergy season due to the large amount of winter rain. On the other hand, spring ranged from about one to two weeks late in the Northwest, the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic U.S.


The symptoms of allergic rhinitis may at first feel like those of a cold. But unlike a cold that may incubate before causing discomfort, symptoms of allergies usually appear almost as soon as a person encounters an allergen, such as pollen or mold.

Symptoms include itchy eyes, ears, nose or throat, sneezing, irritability, nasal congestion and hoarseness. People may also experience cough, postnasal drip, sinus pressure or headaches, decreased sense of smell, snoring, sleep apnea, fatigue and asthma, Josephson said.

Many of these symptoms are the immune system’s overreaction as it attempts to protect the vital and sensitive respiratory system from outside invaders. The antibodies produced by the body keep the foreign invaders out, but also cause the symptoms characteristic of allergic responses.

People can develop hay fever at any age, but most people are diagnosed with the disorder in childhood or early adulthood, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms typically become less severe as people age.

Often, children may first experience food allergies and eczema, or itchy skin, before developing hay fever, Josephson said. “This then worsens over the years, and patients then develop allergies to indoor allergens like dust and animals, or seasonal rhinitis, like ragweed, grass pollen, molds and tree pollen.”

Hay fever can also lead to other medical conditions. People who are allergic to weeds are more likely to get other allergies and develop asthma as they age, Josephson said. But those who receive immunotherapy, such as allergy shots that help people’s bodies get used to allergens, are less likely to develop asthma, he said.

Common allergens

The most common allergen is pollen, a powder released by trees, grasses and weeds that fertilize the seeds of neighboring plants. As plants rely on the wind to do the work for them, the pollination season sees billions of microscopic particles fill the air, and some of them end up in people’s noses and mouths.

Spring bloomers include ash, birch, cedar, elm and maple trees, plus many species of grass. Weeds pollinate in the late summer and fall, with ragweed being the most volatile.

The pollen that sits on brightly colored flowers is rarely responsible for hay fever because it is heavier and falls to the ground rather than becoming airborne. Bees and other insects carry flower pollen from one flower to the next without ever bothering human noses.

Mold allergies are different. Mold is a spore that grows on rotting logs, dead leaves and grasses. While dry-weather mold species exist, many types of mold thrive in moist, rainy conditions, and release their spores overnight. During both the spring and fall allergy seasons, pollen is released mainly in the morning hours and travels best on dry, warm and breezy days.

Grass pollen is released mostly in the afternoon and evening hours during late spring and summer. (Image credit: )

Pollen count

How do scientists know how much pollen is in the air? They set a trap. The trap — usually a glass plate or rod coated with adhesive — is analyzed every few hours, and the number of particles collected is then averaged to reflect the particles that would pass through the area in any 24-hour period. That measurement is converted to pollen per cubic meter. Mold counts work much the same way.

A pollen count is an imprecise measurement, scientists admit, and an arduous one — at the analysis stage, pollen grains are counted one by one under a microscope. It is also highly time-consuming to discern between types of pollen, so they are usually bundled into one variable. Given the imprecise nature of the measurement, total daily pollen counts are often reported simply as low, moderate or high.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology provides up-to-date pollen counts for U.S. states.

Tests & diagnosis

A physician will consider patient history and perform a thorough physical examination if a person reports having hay-fever-like symptoms. If necessary, the physician will do an allergy test. According to the Mayo Clinic, people can get a skin-prick test, in which doctors prick the skin on a person’s arm or upper back with different substances to see if any cause an allergic reaction, such as a raised bump called a hive.

Blood tests for allergies are also available. This test rates the immune system’s response to a particular allergen by measuring the amount of allergy-causing antibodies in the bloodstream, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Hay fever treatments

Dr. Sarita Patil, an allergist with Massachusetts General Hospital’s Allergy Associates in Boston, talked to Live Science about strategies for outdoor lovers with seasonal allergies.

Patil suggested figuring out exactly what type of pollen you’re allergic to, and then avoiding planning outdoor activities during peak pollinating times in the months when those plants are in bloom. Many grasses, for example, typically pollinate in late spring and early summer and release most of their spores in the afternoon and early evening.

Her other strategies: Be able to identify the pollen perpetrator by sight; monitor pollen counts before scheduling outdoor time; go outside at a time of day when the plants that make you go achoo are not pollinating; and wear protective gear like sunglasses, among other tips.

Allergy sufferers may also choose to combat symptoms with medication designed to shut down or trick the immune sensitivity in the body. Whether over-the-counter or prescription, most allergy pills work by releasing chemicals into the body that bind naturally to histamine — the protein that reacts to the allergen and causes an immune response — negating the protein’s effect.

Other allergy remedies attack the symptoms at the source. Nasal sprays contain active ingredients that decongest by soothing irritated blood vessels in the nose, while eye drops both moisturize and reduce inflammation. Doctors may also prescribe allergy shots, Josephson said.

For kids, allergy medications are tricky. A 2017 nationally representative poll of parents with kids between ages 6 and 12 found that 21% of parents said they had trouble figuring out the correct dose of allergy meds for their child; 15% of parents gave a child an adult form of the allergy medicine, and 33% of these parents also gave their child the adult dose of that medicine.

Doctors may also recommend allergy shots, a neti pot that can rinse the sinuses, or a Grossan Hydropulse — an irrigating system that cleans the nose of pollens, infection and environmental irritants, Josephson said.

Alternative and holistic options, along with acupuncture, may also help people with hay fever, Josephson said. People can also avoid pollen by keeping their windows closed in the spring, and by using air purifiers and air conditioners at home.

Probiotics may also be helpful in stopping those itchy eyes and runny noses. A 2015 review published in the journal International Forum of Allergy and Rhinology found that people who suffer from hay fever may benefit from using probiotics, or “good bacteria,” thought to promote a healthy gut. Although the jury is still out on whether probiotics are an effective treatment for seasonal allergies, the researchers noted that these gut bacteria could keep the body’s immune system from flaring up in response to allergens — something that could reduce allergy symptoms.

Additional resources:

  • Learn about rhinitis treatment and management at the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.
  • Read how thunderstorms can exacerbate symptoms in people with hay fever at The Washington Post.
  • Learn more about immunotherapy tablets as an alternative to allergy shots for treating spring allergies, from NPR.

This article was updated on April 30, 2019, by Live Science Contributor Rachel Ross.

How to Prepare for Spring Allergies Now

During this time of year, weather throughout Kentucky and Indiana change daily. As temperatures reach above 50 degrees, plants begin to bloom and release pollen into the air. Those with seasonal spring allergies will usually start to see symptoms in early March and last through May. It’s important to start preparing for allergies now before pollen reaches peak spring allergy levels.

What are Spring Allergies?

Those with allergies in the spring are typically allergic to pollen that begins to appear in the air. We started seeing tree pollen, one of spring’s main offenders, back in the early weeks of February. In the latter part of the season, we will begin to see grass pollen, and the combination can make the spring a miserable time for allergy sufferers.

While the exact cause of allergies is not known, an allergy occurs when your immune system produces antibodies when exposed to harmless foreign matter. Your immune system is mistaking allergens like pollen and dander for dangerous substances and fighting off them off with the “immunoglobulin E” or IgE antibodies. These produce histamine that can cause the allergic reaction and the telltale symptoms of allergies.

Symptoms of Spring Allergies:

Spring allergy symptoms are typical of respiratory allergies, these include:

  • Sinus Congestion
  • Runny Nose
  • Post-Nasal Drip
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Itchy or Watery Eyes

Determining what is causing your symptoms is the first step towards relief, in the case of spring allergies there are several things you can do to help ease your symptoms.

Why Should You Start Preparing Now?

You don’t have to wait until you are suffering to do something about your allergies. Whether you make an appointment with an allergist or start taking medication, it’s important to get ahead of the pollen. Preparing now can help ease your symptoms throughout the season. If you’ve never been allergy tested now is a great time to do it. Learn what you are allergic to and how to treat it before your symptoms get worse.

6 Ways You Can Prepare for Spring Allergies:

1. Start Treatment

Start taking medication around two weeks before you typically start to feel your allergy symptoms. Over-the-counter antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays can help manage your symptoms by reducing your allergic reaction after it starts but also before. Antihistamines reduce or block histamines that cause your allergy symptoms. Pretreating with allergy medication before symptoms begin can help prevent inflammation and help ease your stuffy nose, itchy, watery eyes and other allergy symptoms.

If you are looking to treat more than your symptoms, immunotherapy (allergy shots) can desensitize you to the allergens that are bothersome to you. A traditional allergy shot program typically takes a few months before patients experience symptom relief, however; Rush or Cluster immunotherapy can reduce relief time to weeks or even days.

2. Get Your Spring Cleaning Started Early

Sweep out the winter cobwebs and get ahead on your spring cleaning. A deep spring clean includes dusting everything from the light fixtures to the bookcases, washing curtains, sweeping floors and rugs, even vacuuming furniture. This will remove any dust and pollen that has already made its way inside.

If you are out sprucing up the yard, wear a NIOSH 95 mask to reduce the inhalation of allergens. When you are done for the day, be sure to change your clothes and shower. Pollen can stick to your clothes and hair, making it easy to track pollen spores throughout your home.

3. Begin Tracking the Pollen Levels

Tree and grass pollen are the main allergy culprits in the spring. Using our Family Allergy & Asthma patient app or by visiting our website, you can view the local pollen counts. Tracking the days when your allergies are worse can help you plan accordingly. Stay inside during the midmorning and early evening to avoid peak pollen hours on days in which the pollen count is high.

4. It’s Tempting… But Keep Your Windows Closed

When the weather is finally warm outside, it is tempting to turn off the heat, open windows, and let the fresh air in. This fresh breeze might feel nice, but it will also bring the pollen inside your home. Keeping your windows and doors closed will create a safe retreat during the peak pollen season.

Another place to control pollen is in your car. Keep your car windows closed and the AC on re-circulation to help keep pollen out of the car.

5. Don’t Forget to Change Your Air Filter

As we often suggest, it is best to change your air filter seasonally, or every 3 months, this helps keep the air inside your home clean. Consider other environmental control products as well, both zippered pillowcases and mattress encasements can help reduce dust mites and even have shown to help with pet allergies.

6. Mold in the Spring

Tree and grass pollen are not the only spring allergens; mold can often occur in basements, bathrooms, and kitchens. Any area that might not dry properly can grow mold, check under the sink and even the doormat for mold spores. Clean or remove anything with mold you find in your home and monitor humidity levels to ensure the humidity is below 50%; otherwise, mold could return.

Keep your allergies under control by preparing now while pollen counts are low. If over-the-counter medications are not helping you, talk to your primary care physician or schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified allergists to find relief.

When spring allergy season first starts, causing you to sniffle and sneeze, tree pollen is to blame. Trees start producing pollen as early as January in the Southern U.S. Many trees keep producing pollen through June.

What Are the Symptoms of a Tree Pollen Allergy?

Pollen allergy symptoms are commonly called “hay fever.” Pollen released by trees, as well as grasses and weeds, cause these symptoms. They include:

  • Runny nose and mucus production
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy nose, eyes, ears and mouth
  • Stuffy nose (nasal congestion)
  • Red and watery eyes
  • Swelling around the eyes

If you have allergic asthma and are allergic to tree pollen, you might also have asthma symptoms while the trees are pollinating.

Tree pollen is finer than other pollens. Because of this, the wind can carry it for miles. These light, dry grains easily find their way to your sinuses, lungs and eyes, making them hard to avoid.

What Trees Cause the Most Symptoms?

Some tree pollen causes more problems than others. Some of the trees that cause the most symptoms are:

  • Alder
  • Ash
  • Aspen
  • Beech
  • Birch
  • Box elder
  • Cedar
  • Cottonwood
  • Elm
  • Hickory
  • Mountain elder
  • Mulberry
  • Oak
  • Olive
  • Pecan
  • Poplar
  • Willow

Being allergic to some trees could cause you to react to certain foods. It happens because the tree pollen is similar to the protein in some fruits, vegetables and nuts.1 Your immune system gets confused and can’t tell the difference between the two. Eating these foods may cause your mouth or face to itch or swell. These foods may include apples, cherries, pears and more. This is called oral allergy syndrome (OAS). Birch and alder trees cause the most OAS food reactions.

In some cases, your tree pollen allergy may cross-react with some nuts, like peanuts or almonds. If you have mouth itching or swelling while eating nuts, you could have a more serious, life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis, which is common with nut allergies. If this happens to you, call your doctor right away.

What Can I Do to Relieve My Pollen Allergy Symptoms?

Thankfully, there are several options for relieving pollen allergy symptoms, available both over-the-counter and by prescription. Talk to your doctor or a board-certified allergist about your symptoms and treatment options. Your doctor might have you take a combination of medicines to keep your symptoms controlled. These medicines include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Decongestants
  • Nasal corticosteroids
  • Leukotriene (loo-kuh-trahy-een) receptors
  • Cromolyn sodium nose spray

If these medicines don’t completely relieve your symptoms, your doctor might also give you immunotherapy. This is a long-term treatment that can reduce the severity of your allergic reactions. It usually involves regular shots, tablets or drops you take under the tongue.

You can also take steps to reduce your exposure to tree pollen:

  • If you haven’t had allergy testing, find a board-certified allergist to test you for pollen allergies. Work with your doctor to come up with a treatment plan.
  • Start taking allergy medicine before pollen season begins.
  • Learn about the trees in your area and when they produce the most pollen. For example, oak tree pollen is highest in the morning. If you are allergic to oak pollen, save your outdoor activities for later in the day.
  • Watch pollen counts on a website like the National Allergy Bureau™.
  • Keep your windows closed and use a CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly® filter on your central air conditioner.
  • Avoid pets that spend a lot of time outdoors.
  • Dry your clothes in a dryer and not outside on a clothes line.
  • Change and wash clothes you wear during outdoor activities.

It may be hard to avoid tree pollen during the late winter and spring. But you can reduce your symptoms with the right treatment.

Medical Review February 2018.

It is important to stay up-to-date on news about asthma and allergies. By joining our community and following our blog, you will receive news about research and treatments. Our community also provides an opportunity to connect with other patients who manage these conditions for support.

Spring is in the air — and with it is a whole lot of pollen, especially in Durham, North Carolina. Photographer Jeremy Gilchrist is making headlines with his images of “pollmageddon,” showcasing the city of Durham covered in a cloud of green.

Could the mild winter and early spring be to blame? The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) recently released its annual “Spring Allergy Capitals” report, naming the top 10 places allergy sufferers should avoid. And while it might be experiencing a “pollenpocalypse,” Durham is ranked 58 on the list.

Even if you’re not located in one of the high pollen areas listed, you could still be experiencing seasonal allergy symptoms. One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to allergies is waiting until they’re already suffering with itchy eyes, sniffles and sneezing.

How to survive spring allergies — and prevent them before symptoms start

April 7, 201803:21

If the pollen count is high in your area, take allergy medication even if you haven’t experienced any symptoms yet, allergists advise. You can check the pollen count in your area at the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology’s website.

Dr. Merritt Fajt, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary allergy and critical care medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, shared some common mistakes that can make allergies feel worse:

1. Not avoiding your allergy triggers.

If you’re suffering, you should be tested. Once you know what you’re allergic to, you can avoid exposure. “If you know you are allergic to grass pollen, then we highly recommend you stay indoors during peak times,” Fajt said.

2. Throwing your windows wide open to allow the fresh air in.

“This can bring the pollen inside your house,” Fajt said.

Use an air conditioner. “A lot of them filter out pollen,” Fajt explained.

3. Showering in the morning.

“It’s better to shower at night before you go to bed so you can avoid bringing pollen into bed with you,” Fajt noted.

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4. Mowing your lawn if you’re allergic to grass.

“And if someone else is cutting their lawn don’t go outside,” said Fajt.

A sublingual tablet is available for grass allergies. It contains low levels of grass pollen and melts under your tongue. You have to take it every day and it’s just for grass, whereas shots can cover a wide variety of allergens.

5. Rubbing your itchy eyes after you’ve been outside.

There’s a good chance you could have pollen on your hands and rubbing your eyes makes your allergies worse, Fajt said. “You should at least wash your hands before rubbing your eyes,” she advised. “And you might try wearing sunglasses since this is a decent way of keeping pollen out of your eyes.”

6. Driving with the windows down.

“You want to close the windows and push the recycled air button,” she advised.

There are also some unexpected factors that could be making your allergy symptoms worse:

7. Proteins found in certain fruits and vegetables

The syndrome is called pollen food allergy syndrome (PFAS). It’s also known as oral allergy syndrome.

The immune reaction fools your body into thinking it’s been exposed to an allergen. “You might eat some fresh apples and your body will perceive it as if you were eating ragweed,” Fajt said. “You can get tingling, itching and even swelling of the lips and the roof of the mouth.”

Common trigger foods include:

  • Apples
  • Almonds
  • Carrots
  • Cherries
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Nectarines
  • Hazelnuts

Because it’s not commonly known, patients often won’t bring it up with a doctor.

“So I’ll just ask them, ‘when you eat certain fruits or vegetables, does your mouth feel funny?’”said Fajt.

If you don’t want to avoid trigger foods until the pollen season clears, eat them cooked or without the skins.

8. Red wine

Red wines have sulfites in them — as does dried fruit. These compounds can cause nasal symptoms, said Fajt.

9. Decongestant nasal sprays

“Those sprays are OK for one or two days, and they are helpful because they give instant relief,” Fajt said. “When they’re used for more than a few days in a row they can cause nasal congestion.”

There’s even a name for this kind of congestion: rhinitis medicamentosa.

Ultimately, if you have allergy symptoms, “you shouldn’t suffer in silence,” said Fajt.

“A lot of people think it’s normal not to be able to breathe through their noses. Then they try a medication and tell me things like ‘I never knew things smelled this nice or that I could sleep through the night.’”

Not to mention that year-round allergens like dust mites, mold and animal dander are still wreaking havoc. “People are still reacting to those year-round allergens in the pollen season, but now there’s extra allergen in the air, which can make their reactions even worse; it’s potentiating an already ongoing allergic reaction,” says Dr. Parikh.

If you are suffering from spring allergies, when can you expect some relief?

“That depends on which exact pollen you’re allergic to, because there are different pollens that come in at different months,” says Parikh. “Tree pollen is the first one, it usually starts in late March/early April, then this goes down and grass pollen is in the air May and June. Then late summer/early fall we see weed pollens, as well as ragweed. Some people may be unlucky and allergic to all of them and they are suffering a lot of months out of the year, or they might just be allergic to one and it’s a few weeks.”

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It seems that some of us may want to order that jumbo pack of tissues and hide indoors for the next few months. But taking the time to understand exactly what is going on inside your body — and how you may be able to combat it — may help you find some relief this season.

April 7, 201803:21

Your body on allergies

So what exactly is happening in your body when you’re exposed to an allergen like pollen (and instantly feel your eyes well up and throat start to get scratchy)?

“Essentially what happens is your immune system decides that it wants to become hyper-sensitive, or allergic, to something. So your immune system recognizes pollen as foreign and it releases a big amount of a chemical called histamines into your blood stream. What the histamine does is triggers this whole immune, or inflammatory, cascade of itchy, watery eyes and stuffy or runny nose. Some people are unlucky and it can be even more severe where they can have breathing problems, asthma attacks, and even bad skin reactions, like flare-ups of eczema, hives or rashes from it as well, because we have histamines and allergy cells throughout our entire body.”

So why are you dying a slow death at your desk, while your co-worker just has the sniffles?

The severity of the immune response, and triggered symptoms vary from person to person. “Just like any medical illness it’s a spectrum, where some people have a very severe, strong reaction where more body systems are involved and some people have it milder,” says Parikh. “Even within the same body system: For one person the itching in their eyes may be very mild, but I’ve seen patients come in where their eyes are swollen shut.”

Is it allergies or a cold?

When you’re allergies flare up, you may be quick to assume it’s a cold, which is a logical assumption, since they present similar symptoms.

“A lot of the symptoms are almost identical: very bad nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, watery noes and eyes,” says Parikh. “But generally colds shouldn’t last you more than a week — 3-5 days on average — whereas allergy symptoms can last weeks to months at a time.”

Besides the length of time you’re suffering from symptoms, there are a few other key differences to look out for. “It’s likely allergies if you’re noticing a pattern to it; if you’re sick all spring or fall (even in the winter it’s still probably allergies if it’s lasting weeks and weeks),” says Parikh. “Allergies are also more associated with itching … itchy nose, itchy eyes … and also with colds, viruses and flus people get much higher fevers than you would with an allergy, so any temperature over 100 or 101 is more likely a virus or infection of some sort.”

How to survive allergy season

  • Don’t write off allergies if you’ve never had them. You can absolutely develop allergies as an adult, “especially the environmental ones,” notes Parikh. “Those tend to change and can come up in adulthood, especially if you’re moving to a new environment after a few years; if you’re moving into a city that has different air quality than where you were living before you can develop an allergy.”
  • But know they can also improve over time. “It can happen, due to environmental changes, but also hormones can have an affect,” says Parikh. “So often after puberty, young boys will see their allergies and asthma get better, whereas the opposite happens with girls, unfortunately, because hormones also have an influence on the allergy cells in your body.”
  • Get tested. “We recommend people see a board-certified allergist, and there are two options in terms of testing: Skin testing, where they would know within 15-20 minutes, and blood tests, where we can see what each specific allergen that they’re allergic to involves,” says Parikh. “It’s helpful because then we can predict which season of the year might be a problem for them. And for some people we are even able to desensitize them or cure their environmental allergies. We use that information to help manage the symptoms, and know when to start and stop medication, and for the desensitization treatment we target individual pollens as well as mold, dust mites, etc.”
  • Choose the right over-the-counter medications. “Generally, the over-the-counter options are a good start, especially the anti-histamine tablets and steroid nasal sprays, those are actually the safest over-the-counter options,” says Parikh.
  • Consider medication or allergy shots. “You can start with over-the-counter, but if it’s not improving and your symptoms are involving your breathing, like coughing or wheezing or chest tightness, then you really should see a doctor,” says Parikh. “We get the people who we know are very susceptible started on preventative medication before the season starts because that way they’re less reactive to their outdoor environment. The immunotherapy or allergy shots are very effective because even with the medications, it’s just suppressing the symptoms; what immunotherapy does, is over time, makes you less allergic, so you won’t even need the medications because you aren’t reacting as strongly anymore.”
  • Allergy-proof your home. “The most important room in your house to keep allergy-free is your bedroom, because we all spend the most time at one there sleeping. If you’re allergic to dust mites, for example, we recommend having very little rugs or carpeting. There are also special encased covers for your mattress, box spring and pillows which have been shown to be the only effective measure against dust mites because it creates a barrier between you and the dust mites,” says Parikh. She also recommends an air purifier if you have a pet or mold in your home environment. “And in the season, we always recommend to rinse your body and change your clothes when you come home from outside so you don’t track the pollen into the bed with you. Keep the windows closed, especially early in the morning, when the pollen counts are the highest.”
  • Know how to find temporary relief. “Wash out your sinuses with a Neti Pot or a saline solution with salt and water — that helps clear things out of your nose,” says Parikh. “Hot showers do help, they open things up so you can breathe better and also wash off any pollen or things that are on your body.”
  • Adjust your exercise routine. “Wearing sunglasses and a hat can help protect your eyes from pollen, but these are temporary measures and it’s very hard to avoid it; it’s all round you,” says Parikh. If your allergies are severe, “avoid outdoor, early-morning exercise because that’s when the pollen counts are the highest. You may want to do evening outdoor workouts or take it indoors, Parikh says.
  • Skip happy hour. “Alcohol makes all allergic reactions worse,” says Parikh. “It increases blood flow to those areas of the body that are already inflamed, and also causes inflammation. Anything that causes inflammation in your body can make it worse — junk food, excess dairy — but alcohol is the only one that we know for sure worsens allergies.”
  • Pay close attention to breathing symptoms — and don’t take them lightly. “There is a peak in emergency room visits and hospitalizations during allergy season because some people get asthma attacks and have a lot of difficulty breathing,” says Parikh. “We always stress not to take that lightly, even if it’s never happened to you before. You could of never had asthma before and have an asthma attack due to your allergies. A lot of times people think it’s only mild symptoms and it can be treated with over-the counter medication, but for some people it does create a large problem and we’ve seen the studies to support it with ER visits and hospitalizations.”


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It’s not your imagination. Allergy season gets worse every year.

The weather is warming. The flowers are blooming. Noses are running. Eyes are watering.

It’s allergy season, and this year it’s been severe in states like Georgia, and cities like Chicago, where the frigid winter delayed the onset. Now that it’s late May, we’re moving away from peak tree pollen season and heading toward grass pollen season. So even more misery is in store.

Last month, massive yellow clouds of pine pollen fill the skies of North Carolina. Photographer Jeremy Gilchrist captured the eerie sight with a drone:

No tricks here. Yes you are looking at a green haze made up of tree pollen from the pines of central NC! This is…

Posted by Jeremy Gilchrist on Monday, April 8, 2019

Forecasters in other parts of the country expect 2019 to be worse than usual, if not the worst year ever, for allergies. Just like 2018, the year before that, and the year before that.

Allergy season has become so predictably terrible that late-night comedians have taken to venting about warnings of the “pollen tsunami” and “pollen vortex” or a “perfect storm for allergies.”

But it turns out there’s truth behind the bombast: Pollen, an allergy trigger for one in five Americans, is surging year after year. And a major driver behind this increase is climate change.

For instance, rising average temperatures are leading to a longer ragweed pollen season, as you can see here:

Changes in the ragweed pollen season between 1995 and 2015. Environmental Protection Agency

A recent study in the journal Lancet Planetary Health found that airborne pollen counts have been increasing around the world as average temperatures climbed. The majority of the 17 sites studied showed an increase in the amount of pollen and longer pollen seasons over 20 years.

And the faster the climate changes, the worse it gets. That’s why residents of Alaska, which is warming twice as fast as the global average, now face especially high allergy risks.

Taken together over the long term, seasonal allergies present one of the most robust examples of how global warming is increasing risks to health. Allergies are already a major health burden, and they will become an even larger drain on the economy.

“It’s very strong. In fact, I think there’s irrefutable data,” said Jeffrey Demain, director of the Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Center of Alaska. “It’s become the model of health impacts of climate change.”

And since so many are afflicted — some estimates say up to 50 million Americans have nasal allergies — scientists and health officials are now trying to tease out the climate factors driving these risks in the hopes of bringing some relief in the wake of growing pollen avalanches.

Here’s what scientists have figured out so far about the relationship between climate change and seasonal allergies.

Pollen is becoming impossible to avoid

Allergies occur when the body’s internal radar system locks onto the wrong target, causing the immune system to overreact to an otherwise harmless substance.

This can cause mild annoyances like hives or itchy eyes, or life-threatening issues like anaphylaxis, where blood pressure plummets and airways start swelling shut.

About 8 percent of US adults suffer from hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, brought on by pollen allergies. Most cases can be treated with antihistamines, but they cost the United States between $3.4 billion and $11.2 billion each year just in direct medical expenses, with a substantially higher toll from lost productivity. Complications like asthma attacks induced by pollen have also proven fatal in some instances and lead to more than 20,000 emergency room visits each year in the US.

Pollen is a fine powder produced as part of the sexual reproductive cycle of many varieties of plants, including elm trees, ryegrass, and ragweed.

A massive cloud of pollen wafts from the trees in a coniferous forest around the Niedersonthofener Lake in Germany. Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/Picture Alliance/Getty Images

It’s released in response to environmental signals like temperature, precipitation, and sunlight. Grains of pollen range in size from 9 microns to 200 microns, so some types of pollen can travel deep into the lungs and cause irritation, even for people who don’t have allergies. High concentrations of pollen in the air trigger allergic reactions and can spread for miles, even indoors if structures are not sealed.

There are three big peaks in pollen production throughout the year. Trees like oak, ash, birch, and maple see pollen surges in the spring. Pollen from timothy grass, bluegrass, and orchard grass peaks over the summer, and ragweed pollen spikes in the fall.

This chart shows the pollen peaks for various species in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Tree pollen peaks in the spring, grass pollen peaks in the summer, and weed pollen peaks in the fall.Johns Hopkins University – Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology

For people who are sensitive to multiple varieties of pollen, it means there will be less relief during warmer weather as these seasons overlap.

We’re already seeing a strong signal of climate change in pollen-spewing plants

In general, pollen is emerging earlier in the year and the season is stretching out longer and longer, especially pollen from ragweed.

Ragweed is handy for studying the impacts of climate on pollen and allergies because it’s an annual plant, unlike trees or perennials. This allows scientists to separate out how variables like winter temperatures and rainfall in the preceding season influence ragweed pollen.

Lewis Ziska, a research plant physiologist at the US Department of Agriculture, told me that the change in carbon dioxide concentrations from a preindustrial level of 280 parts per million to today’s concentrations of more than 400 ppm has led to a corresponding doubling in pollen production per plant of ragweed.

How does this happen? If you’ve looked at a bag or bottle of plant fertilizer, you may have noticed three numbers that represent the ratio of phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium inside. Different ratios encourage different aspects of a plant’s growth, like flowering or making seeds. Carbon dioxide is also an important nutrient for plants, though it’s not included in fertilizer (because it’s a gas). It turns out that higher carbon dioxide concentrations encourage plants to produce more pollen.

For ragweed, you can see a direct pollen response to increases in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere:

Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America

More pollen usually means more seeds, which means more ragweed in the next season. And warmer average temperatures mean that spring starts earlier and winter arrives later, giving pollen producers more time to spew their sneeze-inducing particles.

We can see the effects of CO2 on smaller scales as well. Researchers have found that grasses and ragweed plants increase their pollen production in response to localized surges in carbon dioxide, like from the exhaust of cars along a highway.

However, for other allergen sources like trees, the groundwork for a severe pollen season can be laid more than a year before the current season.

“What happens is if the tree during the previous year has had a ‘good season,’ it tends to load up on carbs so that in the spring, it has a lot of carbs to put out for flower production,” Ziska said. “When that happens, you can get a large bloom, and the consequences of that are inherent in the amount of pollen that’s being produced.”

The far north is getting hit the hardest

Alaska is warming so fast that computer models have had a hard time believing the results. That’s having huge consequences for allergy sufferers in the state, and not just from pollen.

Demain from the Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Center of Alaska explained that rising temperatures are melting permafrost beneath Alaskan towns, causing moisture to seep into homes. This dampness then allows mold to grow, causing more people to seek treatment for mold allergies.

Stinging insects are also a mounting concern. Warmer winters mean that more yellow jackets and wasps are surviving the cold months, increasing the likelihood of Alaskans getting stung. In 2006, Anchorage saw a spike in the numbers of these insects and suffered its first two deaths ever due to insect sting allergies.

“It was so bad, they were canceling community outdoor events,” Demain said.

Looking at patterns of people seeking medical treatment from insect stings, Demain found that the increases grew starker going northward in Alaska, with the northernmost part of the state experiencing a 626 percent increase in insect bites and stings between 2004 and 2006 compared to the period between 1999 and 2001.

Nonetheless, pollen remains a huge concern in Alaska as well, though the main source is birch trees, not ragweed. Birch pollen around Anchorage can get so bad that even people without allergies get bogged down.

Birch trees surround homes near Wasilla, Alaska. Stephen Nowers/Anchorage Daily News/MCT/Getty Images

“For a ‘high’ pollen count, you need greater than 175 grains per cubic meter,” Demain said. “In Alaska, we get highs between 2,000 and 4,000 grains per cubic meter.”

In addition to the quantity of pollen, Demain noted that rising carbon dioxide concentrations increase the allergenic peptides on pollen. The peptides are the molecular signal that triggers the body’s immune system, so more peptides on a given pollen grain increases the severity of the allergy.

So it’s not just more pollen; the pollen itself is becoming more potent in causing an immune response.

For city dwellers, a big issue is that urban planners prefer to plant male trees, because they don’t produce seeds, pods, or fruit that can become litter. The downside is that male trees produce pollen that can trigger allergies.

Allergies are going to get way, way worse

Researchers estimate that pollen counts of all varieties will double by 2040 in some parts of the country, depending on what pathway the world takes on greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s what scientists project allergy risks from tree pollen will change in the eastern United States under a “high” greenhouse gas emissions scenario:

Changes in tree pollen allergy risk by 2100 if CO2 reaches a concentration of 970 parts per million. Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America

Here’s the trajectory for ragweed:

Projections for ragweed pollen production. Climate Central

And here’s what to expect for grass pollen:

Projected changes in grass pollen. Climate Central

This means that regardless of your pollen of choice, the future holds more misery for allergy sufferers.

For now, keep the tissues close by.

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