With the end of winter, so is the cold and flu season. Just when you think you can put away the tissues, though, comes spring allergy and its pesky symptoms. This season, budding trees, flowers and grasses send pollen into the air, causing a runny nose and itchy eyes for many people.
But, in addition to these classic signs, spring allergy symptoms can appear in many other areas of the body, from the face to the throat, including the skin and ears. And yes, they can last for months, well into the summer.
“Spring allergies usually start in March with tree pollen and then in May with grass pollen, so they can last from March to June,” says Dr. purvi parikhan allergist in New York and a spokesperson for the Allergy & Asthma Network.
On the other hand, even if there are no trees, fields or grass nearby, pollen can still wreak havoc on people’s sinuses and skin, adds Dr. Jessica Huy, who is a pediatric allergist at National Jewish Health. “Pollen may travel many miles,” she says.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), up to 20 million American adults (and 6 million children) suffer from springtime allergies, with the most common trigger trees being birch, oak, maple, and elm. But apart from sneezing non-stop, do you know what the symptoms of spring allergies (or allergic rhinitis) are? According to Prevention.comare the following.
When an offending plant releases pollen and makes its way into your nose, your immune system tells your brain to forcibly expel it. That’s why you can’t go five minutes without sneezing when you’re outside in the spring.
If you’re not sure if you’re dealing with allergies, a cold, the flu, or COVID-19, keep this in mind: Allergies won’t cause the fever, body aches, or extreme exhaustion that come with a virus, explains Dr. Hui. That said, allergies can make you feel a little tired if your symptoms start to disturb your sleep, but not in the same way that an illness will.
Cough or sore throat
Spring allergies often cause bothersome postnasal drip – mucus from the sinuses into the throat. “We’ll have patients say, ‘I cough a lot in the morning. When I’m lying down, I feel the drip in the back of my throat,’” says Dr. Hui. That constant drainage can trigger a cough or even a sore throat.
Once the drip subsides, with the help of nasal sprays or antihistamines, the throat symptoms will likely subside as well. To minimize the spread of COVID-19, it is important to continue wearing a mask in public places when you have symptoms such as a sore throat, whether you have allergies or not, as you could be sick without realizing it.
According to the AAFA, up to 25 million Americans have asthma, and allergens are the most common trigger, says Dr. Parikh. When you breathe in any allergen, including pet dander, mold, dust mites, or pollen, your immune system reacts by releasing antibodies that can trigger inflammation of the airways in your lungs, making it difficult to breathe.
Itchy, watery eyes
Most allergy symptoms are caused by histamines, which are chemicals released by the body’s mast cells when they detect an invader, such as tree pollen. Those histamines can cause swelling and inflammation in the eyes, making them feel watery, gritty or itchy, says Dr. Parikh.
allergic dark circles
Spring allergies can sometimes make you look like you’ve been knocked out in a boxing match, leaving you with puffy eyes. Allergists often see what they call “allergic dark circles, when you have puffiness under your eyes and the skin turns a little bluish,” according to Dr. Hui. This is caused by congestion in the small blood vessels that run under the skin, just below the eyes.
Allergy sufferers can often get dull, congested headaches, which they refer to as “sinus headaches,” says Dr. Hui. She explains that congestion can clog the nose and sinuses, which backs everything up. “All that pressure can definitely build up and cause a headache,” says the doctor.
dry and itchy skin on it
If your skin tends to get very dry and itchy during the spring, it could be due to a skin rash called atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema. This can be triggered when an allergen causes inflammation and irritation on the skin.
“In babies, eczema is usually caused by food allergies, but as children get older, they can get it from pollen, mold, dust mites, or pets,” says Dr. Parikh. Most people outgrow it during childhood, but up to 3 percent of adults are still affected.
The “allergic greeting”
Wrinkled noses are a telltale sign of allergies in children and even adults, notes Dr. Hui. “When kids constantly rub their nose up with their hand, it can cause a little crease at the top of the nose,” she says. Fortunately, the crease usually goes away when allergies are treated and you’re no longer forced to rub your nose.
Plugged and itchy ears
In addition to red eyes and a stuffy nose, Dr. Parikh points out that ears can also itch and get plugged up. This may be due to congestion, but it may even be related to the next symptom on the list.
strange reactions to fruit
It may sound weird, but yes, eating fruit can trigger spring allergy symptoms. When you bite into a piece of something sweet, you may experience itchy ears or swelling and hives around your mouth. These reactions could be the result of pollen food allergy syndrome, as some fruits have the same chemical structure as pollen, explains Dr. Parikh.
Not all people with pollen allergies suffer from this syndrome, so it is best to talk to your doctor for a proper diagnosis. The good news is that you can avoid the reaction by cooking the fruit in question, says Dr. Parikh. These fruits are most often linked to these pollens:
- Birch pollen: apple, almond, carrot, celery, cherry, hazelnut, kiwi, peach, pear, plum
- Grass pollen: celery, melons, oranges, peaches, tomato
- Ragweed pollen: banana, cucumber, melon, sunflower seeds, zucchini
How to treat spring allergy symptoms
- Talk to an expert. Your doctor or allergist can determine the best strategy to treat your specific symptoms. Options include oral antihistamines like Zyrtec to relieve sneezing and itching, eye drops like Zaditor to relieve redness and itching, steroid nasal sprays like Flonase to reduce swelling and congestion, and hydrocortisone creams like Cortizone- 10 for eczema.
- Be proactive. If you have allergy symptoms every spring, you can start taking your medications before the allergies hit. For example, if you start sneezing in March, take your meds from the end of February, with your allergist’s approval, of course.
- Focus on your main symptoms. You may only need eye drops instead of an oral antihistamine, for example. Also, do your best to keep allergens out of your home by closing windows and changing out of pollen-laden clothing as soon as you enter.
- Access immunotherapy injections for long-term relief. “It makes you less allergic over time rather than just suppressing symptoms that season,” says Dr. Parikh. Because of this, you’ll likely need to see your doctor once a week for six months, and then once a month for three to five years. And if you can’t stand needles, you can try sublingual tablets, although each one works for a specific allergen. “Injections are still the best option, because you can treat multiple allergies at the same time,” says the doctor.