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Seasonal allergies: Symptoms, causes and treatments

Seasonal allergies, commonly referred to as hay fever and sometimes known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, affect over 65 million adults and almost 14 million children in the USA – and the numbers are rising. Hay fever symptoms can be similar to those of other airborne allergies and illnesses, so if you experience them it’s worth checking whether you have this condition so you can understand how to effectively prevent and treat it. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the symptoms, causes and treatment options for seasonal allergies. 

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What are seasonal allergies, and what are the typical symptoms? 

Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is an allergic reaction to pollen. While pollen is harmless, in people with hay fever the immune system gets the wrong idea and produces a range of unpleasant symptoms including sneezing, coughing, a blocked nose and itchy eyes, nose, mouth and throat in response to these microscopic particles, which are released into the air by plants for fertilization purposes.

Seasonal allergies can lead to a wide range of potential symptoms: 

  • Sneezing 
  • Coughing 
  • Wheezing, tight chest or shortness of breath 
  • Itchy nose, mouth, throat or ears 
  • Blocked or runny nose 
  • Red, itchy or watery eyes 
  • Post-nasal drip (mucus running down the back of the throat) 
  • Headache 
  • Fatigue 
  • Inflammation or pain in the sinuses 
  • Some people with seasonal allergies may also experience itching and swelling in the mouth or throat when eating certain foods – this is called pollen food allergy syndrome (PFAS) 

Studies have shown that hay fever can also affect sleep and concentration due to the irritation caused by these symptoms, sometimes leading to missed days at school or work and poor performance in exams and tasks. People with allergic rhinitis are also more likely to develop asthma, so treating hay fever effectively can make asthma easier to control.

What causes seasonal allergies?

In people who are allergic to pollen, hay fever occurs when pollen particles are inhaled and the immune system produces chemicals such as histamine, leukotrienes and prostaglandins. Some of these chemicals act quickly, leading to symptoms like sneezing, itching and a runny nose, while others create a more delayed inflammatory response that can result in a blocked nose and difficulty sleeping. 

If you think you might have hay fever you should visit your doctor, who can normally diagnose the condition by asking some questions about which symptoms you experience and how and when they flare up. If they’re still unsure, they may refer you for a skin prick or blood test

Seasonal allergies are caused by pollen from trees, weeds and grasses, which are released into the air at various times of year, especially when encouraged by warm, dry and windy conditions. These plants rely on the wind to spread their pollen, whereas there’s little need to worry about flowers that are pollinated by insects. 

Is there a way of checking how much pollen is around? 

Knowing how much pollen is likely to be airborne in your area at a given time may be particularly useful if you suffer heavily from hay fever symptoms. Local weather reports often feature a summary of pollen levels in the area, but for instant up-to-date information, a pollen count resource like pollen.com can prove invaluable. 

Pollen.com provides up-to-date pollen counts for the US in the form of color-coded allergy maps for tree, grass and ragweed pollens, alongside detailed pollen forecasts for every area. You can also find other useful resources including allergy research and tools to help you manage your allergy such as an allergist search, a free mobile app, a pollen diary and an allergy alert widget. 

Is it possible to prevent seasonal allergies from flaring up? 

There are a number of tactics you can employ to help reduce the probability of hay fever symptoms appearing, largely revolving around minimizing contact with pollen. While the following tips can help, especially when used in combination, it’s worth experimenting as you may find that some work better than others for you, and there’s no guarantee that they will noticeably relieve your suffering: 

  • Keep a regular eye on your local pollen forecast and where possible, stay inside when the pollen count is high. Pollen is generally more widespread on warm, dry days and gets washed away by rain (although pollen counts actually tend to rise during thunderstorms). 
  • Where possible, spend less time in rural areas and more time in coastal locations, where pollen is often blown inland. 
  • Water reduces pollen’s toughness and stickiness, so take a shower, wash your hair and change your clothes when you arrive home during high pollen counts. 
  • Keep your windows closed when you can, especially first thing in the morning and in the evening, when pollen is often on the move – if possible, it’s best to stay indoors during these times too. 
  • Use an air purifier with a fine filter or a pollen filter at home and in your car – also, keep your car windows closed and the air recirculation button on. Using a wearable air purifier can be a more convenient alternative, as you can take it wherever you go. 
  • If you need to cut grass, rake leaves or dig up weeds, wear a filtering face mask and wraparound sunglasses – or even better, get someone else to do these jobs! 
  • In addition to masks and sunglasses, a peaked cap or wide-brimmed hat can help protect your face. 
  • Don’t dry your clothes outdoors during high pollen counts. 
  • Wipe your pets down with a moistened microfiber cloth when they come in from outside, as pollen can easily get stuck to their fur. 
  • Use a dehumidifier to keep the air in your home dry, as this will reduce the presence of pollen. 
  • Regularly clean your home with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter. 
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What are the traditional treatments for seasonal allergies?

From over-the-counter solutions like antihistamines and home remedies like spirulina and vitamin C to prescription medications including steroidal nasal sprays and more specialized treatments like immunotherapy, there is a range of treatment options available for seasonal allergies – just remember to ask your doctor. The above preventative measures can help significantly, but they are often not enough. If you’ve found that this is the case for you, you might want to try one of these medicinal treatments to alleviate your symptoms: 

Over-the-counter medicines 
Antihistamines These medicines limit your body’s allergic response by blocking the effects of histamine. They can come in the form of tablets, liquids or nasal sprays, and some are available by prescription only. 
Decongestants Decongestants reduce congestion in the nose or other parts of the body and are suitable for short-term relief. They can be administered as nasal sprays, drops, tablets, liquids or flavored powders. 
Eye drops Containing sodium cromoglicate (or cromolyn sodium), these drops are helpful for relieving itchy eyes. If they don’t provide sufficient relief, your doctor may be able to prescribe a more effective eye drop. 
Home remedies 
Nasal irrigation Rinsing your nasal passages with a saline solution flushes out any mucus and allergens from your nose – although this can help to relieve immediate symptoms, it is only a short-term solution. 
Quercetin This antioxidant, which is found in several fruits and vegetables, is reported to have antihistamine effects
Lactobacillus acidophilus A probiotic bacteria found in yogurt, L. acidophilus has been seen to reduce nasal swelling and other symptoms
Spirulina This blue-green algae has been found to improve hay fever symptoms
Vitamin C There is evidence that vitamin C has antihistamine properties, reducing inflammation and other allergic symptoms. 
Other alternative treatments There are a number of other home remedies that are claimed to relieve allergy symptoms, including stinging nettles, butterbur and foods containing bromelain. Studies have also suggested that acupuncture may help, although as with many of the alternative solutions in this list, its effectiveness has not been proven. 
Prescription medications 
Steroidal nasal sprays These sprays use corticosteroids to reduce inflammation in the nose, relieving irritation. Corticosteroid tablets are also available for more severe symptoms. 
Leukotriene modifiers These drugs are most commonly prescribed where other treatments are insufficient for people suffering from both seasonal allergic rhinitis and allergy-induced asthma, and they work by either preventing the body’s production of leukotrienes (chemicals that can cause muscles in the windpipe to contract) or blocking them from binding to muscle cell receptors. 
Specialized treatments 
Allergy shots These subcutaneous (beneath the skin) injections, which contain tiny doses of the allergen, are a form of immunotherapy administered by a doctor over a long period of time to desensitize the immune system to pollen or other allergens. 
Sublingual immunotherapy Like allergy shots, this immunotherapeutic treatment involves taking small but gradually increasing amounts of the irritant, but they are placed under the tongue rather than injected. 
Photo of wearable air puriefier for seasonal allergies and hay fever

Can seasonal allergies also be effectively treated with a wearable air purifier?

The short answer to this question is yes – in fact, wearable air purifiers, including Respiray Wear A+, can also offer several advantages over alternative treatments – for example, Wear A+ is a drug-free option with no side effects. As mentioned, the best way to avoid the unpleasant symptoms of seasonal allergies is to avoid contact with pollen – and none of the tips, medications or other treatment methods discussed above can guarantee that. 

On the other hand, the principle behind Wear A+ is that if you you’re not breathing in any allergens, you can’t have an allergic reaction – it really is that simple. The device works by drawing in the air surrounding the user and removing pollen and other harmful particles with a powerful HEPA filter, providing a “clean air zone” around the airways.  

Photo of how does respiray work against seasonal allergies

Wearable air purifiers are a relatively new form of treatment, and as a result they often don’t get a mention in online articles about hay fever. However, while we can’t speak for other brands, Respiray Wear A+ has been subjected to in-depth clinical trials by various organizations, including SGS North America Inc., which found that it removes 99.9% of airborne allergen particles. Meanwhile, a clinical trial conducted by the European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF) uncovered a significant reduction in symptoms – including delayed reactions, which can be particularly problematic. 

The ECARF study concluded that wearing Wear A+ “can be recommended from a medical point of view as an effective non-drug option for those allergic to pollen”, adding that “a reduction in symptoms of this magnitude is not achieved by most anti-allergic drugs.” This is huge, as it means that Wear A+ offers protection that not only compares to, but competes with other treatment options. 

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