For the 50 million Americans who suffer from allergies, the excitement of spring comes with a price: nasal congestion, sneezing, and itchy watery eyes among other debilitating symptoms.1 And, to make matters worse, the end of spring doesn’t always mean the end of allergies; allergy sufferers often feel the ill effects of allergies long into the summer months.
The difference: spring versus summer
As we switch seasons, it’s important to understand the difference between spring and summer allergies so you can recognize your triggers and begin treatment. While spring allergies are often triggered by tree pollen, summer allergies are often caused by grasses and weeds.2,3 The type of grasses/weeds to blame varies by location, but ragweed is one of the most common summer allergy triggers and can travel for hundreds of miles on the wind—this is why you often hear ragweed pollen counts during the summer months.3
In addition to grasses and weeds, summer is also peak time for mold and dust mite allergies. Mold loves damp areas such as basements and bathrooms. And once spores get into the air, they can set off an allergic reaction. Dust mites, which are microscopic insects, thrive in warm, humid temperatures and nest in beds, fabric, and carpets, leaving behind residue that can trigger your allergies.3
Here’s a quick list of your potential allergy triggers this summer:
- Blue grasses
- Red top
- Sweet vernal
- Russian thistle
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Determining your summer allergies
If you are experiencing allergy symptoms (regardless of spring or summer triggers), you should see your doctor and/or consider being tested by an allergist, who can identify the causes of your allergies, as well as provide insights into treatment of allergic diseases, asthma, and immunological conditions. Many individuals suffer year after year with symptoms that affect their quality of life and, unfortunately, never realize that the care of a board-certified allergist can provide great relief.
The first thing an allergist will provide you with is an allergy diagnosis. In addition to a physical exam and reviewing your family allergy history, a skin or blood test will be done to determine the exact substances causing your allergies. In my practice, I usually perform skin tests because they are reliable, rapid, and typically more sensitive in many cases than blood tests. Based on the test results, an allergist can help properly interpret your results and develop a proactive allergy action plan, including medicine, education, avoidance measures, and other effective treatment options.
Summer survival tips
In addition to seeing an allergist, there are several changes you can make, starting today, to your daily routine that can make a significant improvement to your allergy symptoms. All allergy sufferers have good and bad days, and it’s important to monitor pollen counts daily—a great resource for this is The Weather Channel’s Allergy Tracker. This will provide you with a local outlook on your area’s current tree, ragweed, and grass pollen counts, as well as future forecasts so you can plan accordingly.
Sometimes, being exposed to allergens is inevitable, but there are some simple Do’s and Don’ts to help keep your symptoms in check:
- DO take your allergy medications before peak seasonal exposure.
- DO wear big sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to block airborne pollen from entering your eyes and lids.
- DO exercise indoors on very high pollen days.
- DO use a pollen face mask to reduce exposure to pollen and mold spores when you are tending to the garden, mowing the lawn, and doing other outdoor activities.
- DON’T line dry your clothes or bedding outdoors on high pollen days, as pollen may get trapped in the fabric.
- DON’T smell allergy-triggering or fragrant flowers, such as amaranth, chamomile, chrysanthemums, daisies, goldenrod, and sunflowers (some better allergy-friendly options include hydrangea, honeysuckle, snapdragon, daffodil, tulip, calla lilies, begonia, hyacinths, and crocus).5,6
- DON’T make your bed. A recent study found that the drying effect of an unmade bed was associated with fewer dust mites contained in the bedding.7
As important as it is to prepare yourself for the pollen outside, it’s equally important for your home to be pollen-free. Shampoo and shower nightly to rinse pollens from your skin and hair. Change your clothing before entering your bedroom to reduce pollens from being brought inside. Keep windows closed and set your air conditioners on “re-circulate” to keep pollens out, and make sure to clean the filters frequently to get the best efficiency. For mold and dust mite allergy sufferers, measure the humidity level in your home and aim to keep it between 30% and 50%.8
Taking on summer allergies
As an allergist, I have found that allergy sufferers often treat their symptoms with pills but are not satisfied with the relief they get. While over-the-counter (OTC) oral antihistamines provide some relief from sneezing, running nose, and itchiness of the nose and eyes, they do not relieve nasal congestion or stuffiness—very common and predominant complaints from my patients and those who suffer from nasal allergies.9 However, treatment guidelines do recommend an OTC nasal steroid spray as first-line treatment for managing of allergy symptoms, including nasal congestion. An example of an OTC nasal steroid spray is Flonase Sensimist Allergy Relief, which is indicated to offer relief from nasal allergy symptoms for ages two and older and nasal and ocular allergy symptoms for ages 12 and older.
Summer allergy sufferers can face severe symptoms that can be just as bad as those during the spring and fall seasons.10 Even if you’ve never had allergies or you are experiencing symptoms for the first time this year, know that you can become allergic at any age or time of year.11 By seeing a board-certified allergist, making smart everyday decisions, and using appropriate treatment options, you’ll be able to improve your allergies and get back to enjoying life.
1. “Allergy Facts and Figures.” Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America , n.d. Web. 16 May 2017. httpss://www.aafa.org/page/allergy-facts.aspx.
2. “Tree Pollen Allergy.” WebMD, n.d. Web. 16 May 2017. httpss://www.webmd.com/allergies/tree-pollen-allergy.
3. “How to Beat Summer Allergies.” WebMD, n.d. Web. 16 May 2017. httpss://www.webmd.com/allergies/summer-allergies#1.
4. Żukiewicz-Sobczak, Wioletta A. “The Role of Fungi in Allergic Diseases.” Advances in Dermatology and Allergology/Postȩpy Dermatologii I Alergologii 30.1 (2013): 42–45. PMC. Web. 22 May 2017.
5. “Best and Worst Flowers for People With Allergies.” WebMD, n.d. Web. 16 May 2017. httpss://www.webmd.com/allergies/best-worst-plants.
6. Ogren, Thomas Leo. Allergy-free gardening: the revolutionary guide to healthy landscaping. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2000. Print.
7. “Untidy beds may keep us healthy.” BBC News. BBC, 18 Jan. 2005. Web. 22 May 2017. httpss://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4181629.stm.
8. “Mold Course Chapter 2: Why and Where Mold Grows.” Environmental Protection Agency, 2017. Web. 16 May 2017. https://www.epa.gov/mold/mold-course-chapter-2.
9. “Allergies, Nasal Overview.” The New York Times, n.d. Web. 16 May 2017. httpss://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/allergic-rhinitis/medications.html?print=1.
10. “The Ugly Truth About Summer Allergies.” American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, 11 June 2014. Web. 16 May 2017. httpss://acaai.org/news/ugly-truth-about-summer-allergies.
11. Donovan, John. “Adult-Onset Allergies.” WebMD, n.d. Web. 16 May 2017. httpss://www.webmd.com/allergies/features/adult-onset-allergies#1.
Clifford Bassett, MD, FAAAAI, FACAAI
Clifford Bassett, MD is the author of The New Allergy Solution: Supercharge Resistance, Slash Medication, Stop Suffering (Avery, March 2017). Dr. Bassett is the Founder and Medical Director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York. He serves on the faculty of the New York University School of Medicine and the Weill Cornell Medical College, and is a clinical assistant professor of medicine and otolaryngology at SUNY Health Sciences Center in Brooklyn.