Spring can be challenging for those with seasonal allergies. It’s the season when grass, weed and tree pollens run high, causing allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever. These allergies come with irritating symptoms such as watery eyes, headaches, sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, and an itchy throat. In some cases, allergies can lead to asthma, a potentially dangerous condition causing breathing difficulties.

Rosemary Hallett treats patients with allergies and immunological diseases at the UC Davis Medical Group clinic in Roseville.
Rosemary Hallett treats patients with allergies and immunological diseases at the UC Davis Medical Group clinic in Roseville.

“We’ve had lots of rain this year, and grasses and trees have grown earlier than usual,” said Rosemary Hallett, a clinical professor at UC Davis Health and an allergist at UC Davis Medical Group clinic in Roseville. “This means we expect a more severe year for seasonal allergies.”

There are things allergy sufferers can do to reduce their symptoms, even during this tough allergy season, according to Hallett.

Take control of your allergies

Know your allergies: A simple blood test or a skin test at the doctor’s office can identify the substances you are allergic to. Identifying these allergens is important to develop an effective treatment plan.

Avoid high exposure to pollen: While the weather might be warm and pleasant, avoid mowing the lawn yourself and stay away from moldy piles of leaves. People with seasonal allergies also should avoid irritants such as strong chemicals and pollution.

Protect your indoor environment from pollen: On days when pollen counts are high, keep home doors and windows closed. Stay inside, especially during afternoons and evenings when pollen levels are highest. Cool your home using air conditioning but stay away from humidifiers and evaporative swamp coolers.

Rid yourself from outdoor pollen residues: After being outside on high-pollen days, shower to wash away pollen, and put on clean clothes. Use saline nasal wash to help clear allergens from nasal passages.

Consult your doctor: Ask your doctor about treatment options and follow that treatment plan.

Treating allergies: From over-the-counter options to immunotherapy

arms showing allergy results
Identifying the causes of your allergies can help with avoiding them. A skin prick test can quickly identify allergic reactions to dozens of common triggers, including mold, dust, pollen and pets.

Recommended treatments for seasonal allergies start with avoiding irritants that cause symptoms.

Your doctor can also recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications to treat seasonal allergy symptoms.

“Nasal steroids work well,” Hallett said. “There also are good over-the-counter eye drops that can help lessen eye symptoms.”

The next option Hallett considers for patients with tough allergies is immunotherapy, which addresses the body’s immune response to allergens. Through gradually increased exposure to specific allergens, the body builds tolerance to these substances until it stops seeing them as a threat.

This treatment requires regular trips to a doctor’s office for injections (known as allergy shots) or under-the-tongue tablets, a newer treatment option.

“This approach takes patience as it can be three to five years before treatment is completed,” Hallett said. “It also can be very effective for about 85% of allergy sufferers.”

Additional resources

NIH News in Health: Cold, flu or allergy? Know the difference for best treatment
NIH News in Health: Seeking allergy relief: When breathing becomes bothersome
NIH: Seasonal allergies (allergic rhinitis)
Lung Association: Don’t fear spring allergies and asthma
UC Davis Health: Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology