If you have hay fever, you’re no doubt familiar with the feeling of dread that accompanies the seasonal allergy symptoms, which mostly present at various times from spring to fall, and for an unlucky few persist for the duration of that period. In simple terms, hay fever is an allergy to pollen.
But when it comes to understanding and managing this potentially debilitating condition there’s so much more to know, from the variety of symptoms and the range of treatment options to the different hay fever seasons, pollen types and ways of measuring and reporting pollen in the air. So what exactly is hay fever, how common is it, and is there actually a way to prevent it? Read on to find out.
What are the symptoms of hay fever?
Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is an allergic reaction caused by pollen. Pollen is the term for the tiny powdery grains that are produced by flowering plants for the purpose of reproduction, and when they make their way into the nasal passages and airways of people with hay fever they cause a range of allergic symptoms. Hay fever can be diagnosed using either a skin prick test or a blood test.
Hay fever symptoms include sneezing and coughing, a runny or blocked nose, itchy, red or watery eyes, itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears, a loss of smell, pain around the temples and forehead, headache, earache and tiredness. When people with asthma experience an allergic response to pollen, they might also experience a tight feeling in the chest, shortness of breath and wheezing and coughing.
Allergic rhinitis affects up to 30% of people in America, with around 15% being allergic to ragweed pollen in particular. Certain pollens, such as those from trees, ragweed and orchard grass, can also lead to pollen food allergy syndrome (PFAS), which causes itching or swelling in and around the mouth when eating certain foods.
When is allergy season and how long do seasonal allergies last?
Hay fever is a seasonal condition because plants like trees, grasses and weeds only release their pollen at certain times of the year. Only plants that use the wind to spread their pollen cause hay fever – not those that are pollenated by insects – and the prevalence of those that do cause it varies from one location to another depending on the local terrain and climatic conditions.
If you have hay fever, it can be helpful to know what kind of pollen you’re allergic to, and the timing of your reaction can give you a general idea of this – although there is some overlap between the various pollen seasons. While the exact timings can vary from state to state and from year to year, pollen season in the US typically begins around the new year when tree pollen appears on the scene, followed by grass pollen in April and finally ragweed pollen in the summer and fall:
|Typical season in US
|Can start as early as January in some states, especially in the south, and pollen levels peak multiple times annually
|Grasses can often release pollen throughout the year, especially in the South
|Pollen typically starts to appear around late summer or fall
The amount of pollen found in the air at any time and in a given location is called the pollen count. Pollen particles can be captured using various technologies such as laser particle counters or Rotorod, volumetric or bioaerosol samplers, and then identified and measured to give the local pollen count. Pollen counts in the US are collected and reported by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology’s (AAAAI) National Allergy Bureau (NAB), and pollen counts and forecasts are often shared online and on weather forecasts too.
Which plants are responsible for the different types of pollen and where do they appear?
As you can see in the table above, there are three types of plant to watch out for if you’re trying to avoid hay fever. If your symptoms arise in the early springtime, they’re likely caused by a tree, with elm, ash, alder, birch, pecan, walnut, olive, oak and juniper being among the main culprits.
There are many different types of grass growing around the US, generally releasing pollen in late spring or early summer in the Northern United States and all year round in the south. The main ones that cause hay fever are Bahia, Bermuda, timothy, fescue, Kentucky blue and Johnson grasses. Meanwhile, weed pollen allergies are mostly down to ragweed, which grows in 49 US states and can travel long distances through the air, although pollen from other weeds, such as pigweed, Russian thistle, sagebrush, mugwort and tumbleweed, can also be responsible for causing issues.
What allergy remedies and treatments are available?
Using allergy medicines, such as antihistamines, decongestants or leukotriene modifiers, can help people struggling with hay fever by blocking the body’s allergic response. Taking medicines such as these is the most common treatment for hay fever symptoms, and they provide powerful relief to people all over the world. But these treatment methods, which are available as drops, tablets or nasal sprays, come with their drawbacks – for example, many antihistamine drugs cause unwanted side effects including dry mouth, blurred vision and drowsiness, which can make it unsafe to drive or operate machinery.
Most other methods for minimizing hay fever symptoms revolve around avoiding contact with pollen, such as putting petroleum jelly around the nostrils to trap the particles, protecting the eyes with wraparound sunglasses, regularly showering, washing clothes and vacuum cleaning, and staying indoors with the windows and doors shut wherever possible. Some more extreme treatments that can provide allergy relief include steroids and immunotherapy, where small amounts of pollen are administered to build up an immunity.
Is there an air purifier for allergies?
A non-invasive option for avoiding hay fever symptoms is using an air purifier, which filters out allergen particles to make the air safer to breathe . There are a few different types to choose from – stationary air purifiers, portable personal air purifiers and wearable air purifiers. These devices can also clear the air of other potentially harmful particles including pollutants and pathogens, benefiting anyone who uses them and not just those with hay fever or other airborne allergies.
While using a stationary air purifier for hay fever can help, it’s worth noting that these devices take a while to make the air in a room clean and then need to be kept on at all times to maintain it – also, they use a lot of electricity and can only keep one room at a time clear of pollen. Meanwhile, portable air purifiers are smaller and can be kept handy, but they are still often inconvenient to carry around.
Ionizers, which use negatively charged particles to attract unwanted particles from the air, are another type of air purification device on the market. However, these are not recommended as they also produce ozone, which can be harmful to users in the long term.
Wearable air purifiers combine effectiveness with convenience
With the benefits of stationary and portable air purifiers being hampered by the various drawbacks of these devices, wearable air purifiers hit the sweet spot, providing effective relief while also being comfortable and effortless to use. Respiray Wear A+ is an ergonomic wearable air purifier for seasonal allergies that provides instant allergy relief by drawing in air with a fan, filtering out harmful particles with a HEPA filter and then blowing the filtered air out to surround the user’s nose and mouth.
Wear A+ has been put through rigorous lab tests, finding that it removes 99.9% of allergen particles from the user’s air. The device works wherever you are and for as long as you’re wearing it, and there’s no need to risk the side effects from putting pharmaceutical chemicals in your body, either. And unlike allergy masks and most other wearable air purifiers, Wear A+ is extremely comfortable to wear and doesn’t cover the face, leaving you free to breathe and smile without obstruction.
We hope this guide has helped you get to grips with seasonal allergy symptoms and causes, as well as how to understand pollen counts and assess the risk levels in your area in 2024. If you want to do your own research or see more statistics about hay fever and pollen counts in the US, there are many useful resources available including the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.