Red itchy eyes, a runny nose, and sneezing galore — if that sounds like you, you’re likely in the midst of an allergy attack. That’s because while springtime means pretty blooming trees and the return of warm weather, it also brings seasonal allergies along for the ride. Not sure if you’ve got ‘em, or wondering how to tame them? We asked experts to share common spring allergy symptoms to look out for, and what you can do to find some relief.
What are spring allergy symptoms?
Spring allergies may trigger upper respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, wheezing, congestion, or a runny nose. You can also develop hives on the skin or be plagued with red, itchy, and watery eyes, as well as puffiness around your eyelids. “Allergies are like a cold that never goes away,” says Eugene S. Hurwitz, M.D., medical director of the Center for Allergy and Asthma of Georgia. Luckily, they respond well to treatment (more on that later).
What triggers an allergy attack?
Coming in contact with an allergen — in the case of seasonal allergies, pollen — causes your body to produce excessive amounts of histamines, which are chemicals that set off your series of symptoms, says Clifford Bassett, M.D., clinical assistant professor in the department of medicine, division of infectious diseases, and immunology at NYU Langone Health. Tree and grass pollen levels tend to peak during spring, while ragweed and other weed pollens can last through the summer and into early fall. Your body mistakes these allergens for an enemy, which is why your immune system kicks in with a symptomatic response. Your symptoms can also be triggered if dust, pet dander, dust mites, or even mold are kicked up during your spring cleaning.
How can I tell the difference between allergies and an illness like the common cold?
With a cold or other infection, you’ll typically experience additional symptoms such as chills, fever, body aches, or gastrointestinal issues. “These other symptoms usually kick in suddenly and then develop over days, but they’ll generally resolve within 7 to 14 days,” says Dr. Bassett. You can also place your bets on allergies if you experience symptoms after being outside, and if allergy meds cause your symptoms to disappear or remain under control.
What can I do to relieve my seasonal allergy symptoms?
Over-the-counter medications like antihistamines can help fight symptoms and last 24 hours (look for non-drowsy if it’s not bedtime), and nasal steroid sprays can also be effective at blocking symptoms when used daily, says Dr. Hurwitz. There are also treatments that your doctor can provide. “The most effective is immunotherapy or allergy shots or drops,” says Dr. Hurwitz. “They build up immunity to the things a patients is allergic to and can reduce symptoms and associated conditions like sinus infections and asthma by as much as 80 to 90% if given by board-certified allergists.”
If you’re looking for a medication-free option, try a sinus rinse or saline spray, which can clear out mucus and ease congestion, says Rekha Raveendran, M.D., allergist and immunologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
And pay attention to your diet: certain foods like sugar, gluten, or dairy can trigger inflammation in the body that may worsen seasonal allergy symptoms, says Fred Pescatore, M.D., author of The Allergy & Asthma Cure. “Swap these foods for local seasonal produce, and try drinking one or two cups of green tea daily, which is a natural antihistamine,” he says.