If you seem to get the same cold-like symptoms at about the same time each year, a cold may not be to blame for your condition. In many cases, this is a sign of seasonal allergies. In fact, more than 1 in 5 people suffer from seasonal allergies, according to the Mayo Clinic. Fortunately, this condition is much easier to treat once you figure out the source of your allergies and how to prevent your symptoms from occurring.
Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, are any allergy symptoms that occur during certain periods of the year. These symptoms will often occur in response to weather changes that occur in certain seasons of the year. Most commonly, seasonal allergies flare up during the spring, when spores and pollen particles are released into the air by various molds and plants.
Though seasonal allergies are common, it’s important to note that this condition can vary from person to person based on certain factors. For example, the type of pollen or mold that an individual is allergic to affects which symptoms she experiences and during which time period her symptoms occur. In addition, the area where a person lives can affect the degree to which his symptoms are experienced. In the mid-Atlantic states, for instance, tree pollination occurs from February through May, while weed pollination takes place from August through October.
The symptoms of seasonal allergies are very similar to those associated with the common cold. Those symptoms typically include:
- Nasal congestion
- Sinus pressure
- Itchy nose
- Runny nose
- Itchy or sore throat
- Facial pain
- Red, itchy and/or watery eyes
- Swollen, blue-colored skin under the eyes
- Decreased sense of smell or taste
These symptoms are marked by an increased severity during certain times of year. However, depending on the individual’s allergies and where they are located, the symptoms may be experienced year-round.
There are a few ways to tell the difference between cold symptoms and seasonal allergy symptoms. With a cold, a runny nose usually produces a thicker, yellowish discharge, while a runny nose from seasonal allergies usually results in a thin, watery discharge. Furthermore, symptoms of a cold appear a day or two after exposure to the cold virus and last five to seven days, while seasonal allergy symptoms appear as soon as a person is exposed to the allergen and last as long as that exposure continues. Finally, a cold is usually accompanied by body aches and a low-grade fever while seasonal allergies are not.
Causes And Risk Factors
Seasonal allergies occur when the immune system mistakenly identifies a substance as harmful to the body and produces antibodies to attack it. The production of antibodies releases chemicals in the body which cause the symptoms associated with the condition.
Certain people are more at risk of developing seasonal allergies, including those who:
- Are male
- Suffer from other allergies or asthma
- Have a blood relative who suffers from allergies or asthma
- Live or work in an environment where exposure to pollen or mold is constant
- Were exposed to cigarette smoke as a baby
Developing seasonal allergies is not preventable. The best way to prevent seasonal allergy symptoms is to reduce exposure to the allergens themselves. For many individuals, that means keeping doors and windows closed during certain times of year, installing an allergy-grade filter in home ventilation systems, using a dehumidifier or HEPA filter or avoiding activities like mowing the lawn, raking leaves or gardening.
Any person who may have seasonal allergies should see a doctor for a diagnosis and personalized treatment. While some people are effectively treated by over-the-counter medications, others may require prescription meds to treat their condition. Medications that are commonly used to treat seasonal allergies include:
- Antihistamines: These can be available as pills, nasal sprays or eye drops, but some types may cause drowsiness.
- Decongestants: These are available as pills or nasal sprays. Possible side effects of decongestants include increased blood pressure, irritability, headaches and insomnia.
- Nasal corticosteroids: These are available as nasal sprays, and may cause nose irritation or an unpleasant smell or taste.
- Oral corticosteroids: These are available as a pill. However, possible side effects include cataracts, osteoporosis and muscle weakness.
- Nasal ipratropium: These are available as a nasal spray and cause mild side effects like sore throat, nasal dryness and nosebleeds.
In addition to medications, some individuals get allergy shots (immunotherapy) to help decrease symptoms over time. Some people also rinse their sinuses to relieve their nasal congestion.
It’s important to find treatment for seasonal allergies since they can cause other unpleasant conditions, such as sinusitis, ear infections or asthma. Even though most seasonal allergies are not dangerous, a serious reaction to allergen exposure is still possible and should be treated with emergency medical care. With a simple doctor’s appointment and a few medications, most people are able to control their seasonal allergies quite well.