Allergies occur when the mucous membranes in the nasal passages become inflamed due to an airborne irritant called an allergen. Seasonal allergies (often referred to as hay fever) are a common complaint among allergy sufferers. They occur only at certain times of the year — usually spring, summer and fall — and are triggered by specific seasonal allergens.

Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies

Hay fever is a misleading title for seasonal allergies, because it never produces a fever and hay isn’t a common trigger. Symptoms of seasonal allergies include:

  • congestion
  • dry cough
  • impaired sense of smell or taste
  • itchy throat
  • itchy, watery eyes
  • runny nose
  • sleep disturbances

Allergic conjunctivitis, or red itchy eyes, may occur if pollen or mold spores come in contact with the eyes.

Seasonal Allergy Triggers

The specific allergens that bring on seasonal allergies vary according to the time of year.

  • Fall:Ragweed pollen is the biggest culprit in the autumn.
  • Spring:The biggest allergy season of the year, the warmer temperatures of spring bring with it tree pollen, which is a major allergen. Pollen typically comes from oak, elm, maple, alder, birch, juniper and olive trees.
  • Summer:Summer allergies tend to be due to grass and weed pollen. These plants include Bermuda, Timothy, sweet vernal, orchard and Johnson grasses, along with Russian thistle and English plantain.

Airborne mold spores also contribute to seasonal allergies. Allergy triggers vary in different parts of the country. For example, mountain cedar is a major source of pollen from December to March in the western United States. Since grasses pollinate for longer periods in the southwest, grass pollen causes allergies well into the fall.

Some unlucky individuals are allergic to several different kinds of pollen. For many of these people, allergy season lasts from early spring to late fall.

Remedies for Seasonal Allergies

Most people treat their seasonal allergies with over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines. These may be combined with an oral decongestant. Antihistamines often have side effects that may include:

  • blurred vision
  • confusion
  • constipation
  • drowsiness
  • dry mouth

Other treatments for seasonal allergies include corticosteroid nasal sprays and leukotriene modifiers, which reduce inflammation and relieve runny noses. Eye irritation may be treated with eye washes or eye drops containing antihistamines.

Natural Remedies for Seasonal Allergies

Many people prefer not to take prescription or over-the-counter medication for their allergies. One common reason for this is concern over side effects. Another issue is cost, especially for those who suffer from allergies throughout most of the year. Some popular herbal and natural remedies include:

  • Butterbur:Taking one tablet of this European herb four times daily has been shown to rival the effects of an antihistamine, but without the side effects. It’s particularly effective at relieving grass pollen allergies.
  • Saline nasal spray:Rather than buying expensive over-the- counter nasal spray, you can make your own at home. Mix eight ounces of tap water with a quarter to half a teaspoon table salt and a pinch of baking soda. Fill a saline rinse bottle or a large-bulb syringe with the solution. Insert the syringe tip into one nostril and squeeze the bulb while sniffing. Gently blow your nose and repeat with the other nostril. This is known as nasal irrigation and is very effective at relieving irritated nasal passages.

Spicy food: Hot, spicy dishes have been known to thin mucous secretions and clear nasal passages. The best spices to use are cayenne pepper, hot ginger, fenugreek, onion and garlic.

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