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Are you ready for summer allergy season?

5 minute read
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Seasonal allergies aren’t just a spring thing. Learn about the main hot-weather triggers and how you can get relief.

Rosemary Black

By Rosemary Black

For many people who’ve sneezed and wheezed their way through spring, seasonal allergies don’t just disappear once June rolls around. Summer can also be challenging.

“The symptoms of summer allergies are very similar to the symptoms of spring allergies,” says S. Shahzad Mustafa, MD. He’s chief of allergy, immunology and rheumatology at Rochester Regional Health in New York. “But while the symptoms are similar, the triggers are different.”

Here’s what those triggers are and how to enjoy these sun-filled months without the congestion and postnasal drip.

Why spring and summer allergies are different

Pollen is the most common cause of seasonal allergies. It’s a fine, powdery dust that poofs out of seed plants to fertilize another plant. When pollen takes to the wind, though, it can also find its way to your nose, eyes and lungs.

The difference between allergies that hit you in March or April and those that hit you in the summer? The source of the pollen.

Spring allergies are due to tree pollen, says Sherry Farzan, MD. She’s an allergist at Northwell Health in Great Neck, New York. But summer allergies are usually caused by grass pollen.

A variety of grasses cause these allergies. “Your summer allergies can vary depending upon what part of the country you’re from,” says Dr. Farzan. It’s also possible to be allergic to several types of grass.

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Grass allergies also peak at different times depending on where you live. In northern regions of the U.S., grasses typically pollinate in the late spring or early summer. In southern regions, grasses may pollinate throughout much of the year.

There are hundreds of types of grasses, but only a handful cause drippy noses and itchy eyes. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), the most common types of grasses that cause allergies are:

  • Bermuda
  • Johnson
  • Kentucky
  • Orchard
  • Rye
  • Sweet Vernal
  • Timothy

How do you know if you’re allergic to grass pollen?

If you tend to sneeze a lot and get an itchy, runny nose as summer kicks off, you may have a sensitivity to grass pollen. The only way to know for sure is to get tested by an allergist, says Dr. Farzan. “You can have skin testing or blood testing done to confirm your allergies,” she says.

Other common culprits for allergy symptoms include:

  • Dust mites. These tiny organisms live in dust bunnies and in the fiber of household objects (like carpets, mattresses and pillows). They thrive in warm, humid areas.
  • Molds. These tiny spores float through the air like pollen. They’re found in damp areas (such as basements, leaf piles and mulch). And they peak during hot, humid weather.
  • Animal dander. Did you get a new pet (or offer to watch your neighbor’s cat for a week)? Proteins from an animal’s sweat or saliva can cause allergic reactions.

(To learn more about allergies, check out Stuffy nose? How to tell if it’s a cold, allergies or COVID.)

Quick tips to reduce your summer allergy symptoms

So you’re allergic to grass pollen. Does that mean you should stay inside, in your bubble until fall rolls around? Definitely not. It’s impossible to avoid all grass pollen (more on treatments next). But these simple steps from the AAFA can reduce your exposure.

  • Check the pollen count and the local forecast each day and limit your time outside when the count is high.
  • Keep your lawn cut short, which will reduce pollen in the air. And close the windows before mowing. If possible, have someone mow for you.
  • Wash sheets and blankets weekly in hot water.
  • Use air conditioning indoors instead of fans.

Treating summer allergies with medication

Spring and summer allergies may have different triggers. But treatment options are often the same, says Dr. Mustafa. You’ll just want to be mindful of your timing.

Most allergy medications work best when you begin them before pollen season hits. This way, they’ll prevent your body from releasing histamine and the other chemicals that cause symptoms. Try starting your treatment regimen 1 to 2 weeks before the summer grasses in your area start to pollinate.

OTC allergy medications

According to the AAFA, there are 3 main types of OTC allergy medications:

Antihistamines. These block histamine, a chemical your immune system makes that causes your symptoms. Examples include loratadine (Claritin®) and cetirizine (Zyrtec®). (FYI, here’s the difference between Claritin and Zyrtec.) You can also choose antihistamine eyedrops that ease itchy, red eyes. An option is ketotifen (Zaditor®).

Corticosteroids. They help lower allergy-related inflammation. They’re available OTC as nasal sprays. Available options include budesonide (Rhinocort®) and fluticasone propionate (Flonase®).

Decongestants. These help quickly relieve nasal and sinus congestion. Options include:

  • Plain decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed®)
  • Decongestant and antihistamine combinations (examples are cetirizine and pseudoephedrine (Zyrtec-D 12-Hour®) and loratadine and pseudoephedrine (Claritin-D®)
  • Nasal sprays, such as oxymetazoline (Afrin®)

Not sure which medication to take? “There’s no single answer for every person, and a management plan should be individualized,” says Dr. Mustafa. “It’s something to discuss with your health care provider, or ideally with an allergist.”

No matter what regimen you’re on, always follow the medication’s instructions. For example, decongestant nasal sprays shouldn’t be used more than 3 days in a row (unless your doctor says otherwise).

Prescription allergy medications

When OTC antihistamines aren’t effective enough, your doctor may prescribe stronger medications.

“Sometimes we prescribe medication such as montelukast to help control allergy symptoms,” Dr. Farzan says. “Some allergy eyedrops and nasal sprays are prescription, too. And if the allergies are triggering asthma, there are several approaches to treat the shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.”

What happens when OTC or prescription allergy medications aren’t effective? Your allergist may prescribe allergen immunotherapy (aka allergy shots). These shots contain small amounts of the allergens that you react to.

“The allergens are diluted and given as weekly injections. The dose is built up every time,” Dr. Farzan says. This helps you become tolerant of the allergens. And it significantly improves allergy symptoms.

Another form of immunotherapy involves allergy tablets. It’s called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), and it doesn’t involve any needles. Instead, you put a tablet that contains the allergen under your tongue for a minute or so. Then you swallow it. Taking these tablets each day may reduce grass allergy symptoms.

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Additional sources
Grass pollen allergy: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (2021). “What If You’re Allergic to Grass?”
Treatments: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (2018). “Allergy Treatment”