Seasonal Allergies: Ways to Combat the Sniffles, Sneezes and Snot

Woman in field, enjoying sunshine and flowers; seasonal allergies vs. environmental allergies?

Do you have a runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion or sneezing? If so, you could be suffering from either a seasonal allergy or environmental allergy. Ashley Neils, MD, UnityPoint Health, explains how to identify the difference between the two and potential treatment options for allergy relief.

Seasonal Allergies Explained

Seasonal allergies strike at different times of the year, depending on which allergens trigger a reaction.

“It depends on the person and what he/she is allergic to,” Dr. Neils says. “Some people outgrow their allergies, and some develop allergies as they grow older.”

Dr. Neils says many people who suffer in the spring are feeling the effects of pollen. Pollen is the fine powder transferred from plant to plant by wind, insects, birds or others animals. In the case of a mild winter, plants can begin to pollinate earlier, causing the early onset of symptoms for allergy sufferers.

“Seasonal allergies symptoms include runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion and sneezing. Other symptoms include sore throat from post-nasal drip, the sensation of one’s ears popping and even fatigue during the day,” Dr. Neils says.

When the weather begins to change from winter to spring, there are all sorts of different pollens floating around, causing different reactions. Those who are allergic to tree pollen typically suffer the worst in the spring, whereas those who are irritated by grass pollen might feel worse in later spring and summer.

“A good resource is, where you can type in your zip code and find out if tree, grass or weed allergens are high. If you have severe allergies or asthma, this would be a good site for you to look at and consider staying indoors or using a mask, let’s say, if you wanted to mow the lawn,” Dr. Neils says.

Dr. Neils says ragweed begins to bloom later in the year, causing discomfort for those who suffer from fall allergies. It and other allergies typically end at the first frost. Does this mean there are no winter allergies? Not quite. While winter provides relief to most people with allergies, it doesn’t provide relief to all.

“I generally have my patients stop their anti-histamines at the first frost of the year, but there are some who continue to need them in the winter, generally from environmental exposures, such as molds in the home,” Dr. Neils says.

Environmental Allergies Explained

Environmental allergies are different from seasonal allergies in that they're found year-round versus different times of the year. Environmental allergies include exposure to dust mites, cockroaches and pet danger. Dr. Neils offers non-medicinal suggestions to keep allergens at bay in the home.

  • Dispose of old mattress
  • Shower off allergens at the end of the day
  • Use a sinus rinse (only boiled water that has cooled or distilled water)
  • Keep windows closed, and use an air conditioner
  • Purchase an air purifier with a HEPA filer

Allergy Treatments

If you decide to take medication to keep a better handle on your symptoms, Dr. Neils suggests anti-histamines, such as loratadine (Claritin) or cetirizine (Zyrtec).

“A patient might prefer one or the other, which is ok with me. It’s like a preference for Coke or Pepsi!” Dr. Neils says.

If these medications don’t work, Dr. Neils suggests the next step would be a nasal steroid, such as fluticasone (Flonase) or triamcinolone (Nasacort).

If you think you might be suffering from seasonal or environmental allergies, contact your UnityPoint Health primary care provider to begin down the path toward relief.

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