For many people, seasonal allergies can be a trigger for asthma, a respiratory illness whose sudden attacks can be fatal. Generally, however, seasonal allergies are more annoying than risky, yet they can make life miserable for months at a time. For most people, the worst season is mid-August to late October, but many suffer with spring and summer allergies as well.
Seasonal allergies are caused by a body’s reaction to plant pollens. The most common fall pollutant is ragweed, which is found all across North America. Tree pollens are the most common culprit in the spring; grass pollens dominate in the summer. Commonly called “hay fever,” seasonal allergies go by the scientific name of allergic rhinitis.
Typical symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, post nasal drip, dark circles under the eyes, recurrent sinus infections and, sometimes, a sore throat. Some people experience trouble smelling or tasting as well. Generally, hay fever is diagnosed when symptoms are convincing, but skin tests are employed if the seasonal nuisance is debilitating enough to require more serious medical treatment.
The most common treatment is avoidance of pollen, but this means staying indoors. Over-the-counter antihistamines – Allegra, Benadryl, Chlor-Trimeton, Dimatane, Tavist, Zyrtec and Ocu-Hist (eye drops) – may be helpful, but they often have associated side effects including drowsiness, not good for driving or construction work. Prescription antihistamines (Clarinex, Xyral, Astelin (nasal spray) and Patanol, Elestat and Optivar (eye drops)) are also available, and some do not produce drowsiness. Decongestants such as Sudafed and Afrin (nasal spray) may also help. What works well for one person may be different for another. For assistance, consult your doctor or pharmacist.
Many children suffer with seasonal allergies, and the same medications can help. Often, the medications can be administered before school. Parents should consult with their pediatrician.
Daily local and national forecasts of allergy concentrations are available at pollen.com.