Key Points about Seasonal Allergies

  • Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, occur when the immune system identifies something your environment as harmful.
  • Common symptoms of seasonal allergies include watery and itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing, congestion, fatigue, and a runny nose. 
  • Common triggers of seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis include tree, grass and ragweed pollen, dust mites, mold, and pet dander.
  • Treatment for seasonal allergies usually involves avoiding the problem allergen as much as possible and taking over-the-counter medications to reduce symptoms.

 Set up an appointment with your doctor if over-the-counter medications do not provide relief from your symptoms.

Common related conditions
Drug Allergies Food Allergies

Overview

Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, occur when the immune system identifies something your environment as harmful, which leads the immune system to produce antibodies, called immunoglobulin E (IgE), that remain on the alert for that substance. When you are exposed to the substance again, these antibodies attack the “invader” by releasing immune system chemicals such as histamine, which cause allergy symptoms.

Common symptoms of seasonal allergies include watery and itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing, congestion, fatigue, and a runny nose. Seasonal allergies are often caused by tree, grass and ragweed pollen, dust mites, mold, and pet dander.

Your doctor can administer tests to identify possible environmental allergens, prescribe medications to alleviate symptoms, and help set up a long-term plan to avoid environmental allergens that trigger your symptoms.

Seasonal allergy causes

Common triggers of allergic rhinitis include:

  • Tree pollen, in the early spring
  • Grass pollen, in the late spring and summer
  • Ragweed pollen, in the fall
  • Dust mites, cockroaches and pet dander
  • Spores from mold and fungi

Seasonal allergy risk factors

You may be more likely to develop seasonal allergies if you have:

  • Other existing allergies
  • Eczema
  • An immediate family member with allergies or asthma
  • A work or home environment where you are repeatedly exposed to allergens
  • A mother who smoked during your first year of life

Seasonal allergy symptoms

Common symptoms of seasonal allergies include:

  • Nasal congestion and a runny nose
  • Red, itchy, or watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Itchy throat, nose, or mouth
  • Blue-colored, swollen under-eye skin
  • Postnasal drip
  • Fatigue

Seasonal allergy complications

Seasonal allergies can lead to complications such as:

  • Sleep problems caused by irritating and disruptive symptoms
  • Increased asthma symptoms
  • Sinusitis, or an infection or inflammation of the membrane lining the sinuses
  • Ear infections
  • Reduced quality of life, as symptoms can hinder your productivity and enjoyment of every-day activities

Seasonal allergy diagnosis

When diagnosing seasonal allergies, your doctor will:

  • Conduct a physical examination
  • Review your medical history

Your doctor may also administer the following tests:

  • Skin test — In a skin test, a doctor or nurse will prick your skin to expose you to small amounts of the proteins found in various potential allergens. If you are allergic, you will likely develop a raised bump, or hive, at the injection site on your skin.
  • Blood test — to measure your immune system response to various substances

Seasonal allergy treatment

While you may not be able to avoid seasonal allergies altogether, reducing exposure to the problem allergen can prevent or alleviate symptoms.

You can also take over-the-counter allergy medications when you anticipate exposure to an allergen, such as:

  • Antihistamines
  • Nasal corticosteroids
  • Decongestants
  • Cromolyn sodium
  • Oral corticosteroids
  • Nasal ipratropium
  • Leukotriene modifier

Rinsing your sinuses with a sterile saline solution, such as with a neti pot, can provide relief from nasal congestion.

If home remedies, over-the-counter medications and environmental modifications do not provide relief, your doctor may recommend immunotherapy to decrease your body’s reaction to the allergen over time.

When to seek care

Call your doctor if:

  • Over-the-counter medications are not relieving your symptoms
  • You have conditions such as asthma or nasal polyps that can worsen symptoms
  • You frequently develop sinus infections

Next Steps

Patients suffering from chronic, life-interrupting seasonal allergies will likely need to consult a doctor who specializes in allergies and immunology to manage long-term symptoms.