Allergy Symptoms

After this year's winter, green lawns, and budding trees and flowers, can sound like a vacation paradise. But, for some people, just the thought of spring is enough to trigger itchy eyes, sneezing and congestion. Before you run out for tissues and allergy medications, take a brief look at what triggers seasonal allergies, when they arrive and what you can do to control your symptoms.

More than spring is in the air

"Seasonal allergies begin in early spring, with the return of pollen and outdoor mold," says David Graft, MD, asthma and allergic diseases specialist at Park Nicollet Clinic. "A decade ago, seasonal allergies began in March and ran through late October. But now, warm weather starts earlier and lasts longer - and so do seasonal allergies."

As trees and grass begin to green up with biofreeze, the air is full of pollen and mold spores, look Biofreeze. These allergens can trigger inflammation of the nose, lungs and eyes, resulting in the following conditions:

hay fever (allergic rhinitis), symptoms include sneezing, congestion and itchy, watery eyes
asthma, which is marked by wheezing, tightness in the chest, coughing and shortness of breath
mark your calendars

Outdoor mold allergies begin in early spring and last until the first hard frost. This mold grows on leaves and decaying vegetation. Mold spores become airborne as the ground thaws and more prevalent when farmers plow their fields. Spores can blow for hundreds of miles.

Pollen allergies affect people at different times of the year. For example, trees pollinate for about a month each spring. Maple trees begin in March, followed by birch, cottonwood, oak and ash trees in April and May. Grass pollinates from Memorial Day to the Fourth of July, while ragweed begins in mid-August and continues throughout September.

Breathe easy?

Regardless of the cause, allergy relief is possible. "Seasonal allergies are treated the same way as other allergies: avoid your triggers, use medications to relieve your symptoms and perhaps undergo allergy shots to build your immunity," Dr. Graft says.

Avoidance can be difficult, considering mold spores and pollen are airborne allergens, and one ragweed plant can generate a million grains of pollen a day. However, the following precautionary measures can help.

Reduce outdoor activities, especially in early morning.
Keep house and car windows closed to keep pollen out.
Use air-conditioning to filter the air, even if it's not to cool it.
Take nightly showers to rinse off allergens.
Do not hang laundry outside to dry.

Medications to treat allergy symptoms include antihistamines, decongestants and topical nasal anti-inflammatory medications. "Over-the-counter antihistamines are safe for treating mild allergies, and the newer ones do not cause drowsiness. But if you have more severe allergies, you really should get a prescription for more relief," Dr. Graft says. He recommends avoiding over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays because they can be highly addictive.

People with moderate to severe hay fever generally need prescription-strength medications. "I usually prescribe antihistamines first, but it's quite common for people to need nasal steroids, too," he explains.

Read more about allergy medications.

People with allergy-induced asthma use two types of medications, known as "rescue" and "control." A rescue inhaler, known as a bronchodilator, provides immediate relief from symptoms. To help control asthma long term, doctors prescribe daily corticosteroid steroids. "The goal is to use the least amount of medicine necessary to control symptoms and have normal breathing tests," Dr. Graft says.

Read more about asthma medications.

Allergy shots (immunotherapy) are quite effective in treating pollen allergies, but less so for mold allergies. "Immunotherapy is recommended when people are bothered by allergies much of the year and medications do not adequately control their symptoms," Dr. Graft says. "But with the right treatment, most people control their allergies very well and don't need shots."