Pollen Allergies affect up to 30% of adults in the U.S. each year. Often referred to as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, these allergies often cause uncomfortable symptoms throughout the spring.
All flowering plants produce pollen, though not all plants trigger allergies equally. Most allergen sufferers are allergic to certain types of pollen, including trees, grasses and weeds.
Find out what types of pollen may be triggering your pollen allergy symptoms, how to get tested and how to get relief during allergy season.
Pollen, one of the most common allergy triggers, is a fine, dry, powdery material produced by various fertilizing plants such as trees, grasses and weeds.
Tree pollen counts are typically highest in the spring months, grass pollen counts are highest in the summer months, and weed pollen counts are highest in the autumn months.
If you have a pollen allergy (often called “hay fever”), you likely experience classic seasonal allergy symptoms which can include sneezing, runny nose, itchy nose, eyes and ears, stuffy nose, red and watery eyes and swelling around the eyes.
When these symptoms primarily involve your nose, your physician will likely refer to this as “allergic rhinitis” where rhin comes from the Greek word rhis meaning nose and itis is the medical suffix for inflammation.
Symptoms involving your eyes are often referred to as “allergic conjunctivitis” and when you are experiencing both nasal and eye symptoms, you may hear the term “allergic rhinoconjunctivitis” used.
Pollen allergy symptoms can extend beyond the eyes and nose and involve your sinuses, causing allergic sinusitis, which is characterized by facial fullness and pressure. Symptoms in your lungs may also cause allergy-induced asthma, which is characterized by chest tightness, wheezing and shortness of breath. Skin symptoms may include itching, redness and swelling.
These symptoms can become a massive burden, regardless of age and health. Many studies have shown that such allergy symptoms may affect sleep, performance at school and work and overall quality of life.
There are a few ways to get pollen allergies diagnosed. You may make an appointment with your doctor or allergist for a skin scratch test or ask your doctor for a referral for a blood test. Or, order an at-home allergy test kit to get tested for pollen allergies with a simple finger prick.
Your physician or allergy specialist may work with you to gather a history of seasonal allergy symptoms. Using one of two testing methods, skin testing or blood testing, your doctor may provide a diagnosis.
Skin testing works by inserting small amounts of allergen under the skin and monitoring how it reacts over several minutes.
This may be done with a scratch method using a plastic device that barely breaks the skin or an intradermal method using a needle that injects a small amount of allergen in the “dermal” or second layer of the skin. Positive responses are typically determined by swelling and redness where the allergen was placed as compared to a control (usually saline).
Skin testing is a great option because it’s convenient and provides immediate results; however, it also requires you to stop taking medications (such as antihistamines for allergies) several days prior to the testing — which may not be possible. Skin conditions (such as eczema) may also be worsened by skin testing or interfere with diagnosis.
In the case of either of these examples, your doctor may recommend a blood test.
Blood testing can identify specific allergy antibodies (also called IgE or Immunoglobulin E antibodies) to your suspected pollen allergens. Results are typically reported within a few days.
Don’t want to leave your home to get tested for pollen allergies? Order an at-home allergy testing kit, follow the instructions and mail your sample to the lab for testing.
Included in an at-home allergy testing kit is a lancet for blood drop collection, instructions and a package for your sample. Lab clinicians may test your sample for tree pollen, molds and fungi, weeds and grasses and other common allergens.
There are three ways you can reduce your pollen allergy symptoms, including avoidance, medication and immunotherapy. Let’s take a look at some of the ways to avoid pollen as well as natural allergy treatments.
Pollen avoidance isn’t an easy feat, as allergy avoidance means avoiding the outdoors.
Avoiding the outdoors may also mean avoiding some of your favorite outdoor activities, such as spring baseball games (especially on a windy day), summer cookouts and autumnal hikes (who doesn’t want to take a walk through the woods while enjoying a slight chill and the leaves changing colors?).
Yet if your allergy symptoms are particularly severe, avoiding triggers is just one of several ways to avoid symptoms, too.
Here are some suggestions for how you might monitor your pollen allergy.
Most weather apps and websites post daily pollen counts. Monitor pollen counts closely and try to stay indoors or pre-medicating with antihistamines or nasal steroids when pollen counts are high.
Avoid early morning outdoor activities if possible. This is when pollen counts are typically the highest.
Avoid dry, windy days. Wind can keep pollen suspended in the air, blowing pollen particles into the eyes, nose and mouth. Going outside after a rainstorm is ideal as the soaked pollen is cleared from the air.
Keeping doors and windows closed during peak pollen times is key. Since pollen is airborne, it may blow into your home and affix to surfaces, such as couches, tables and chairs.
Pollen especially loves to cling to soft surfaces and fabrics, so remove all cushions from outdoor furniture and bring them inside if pollen counts are high.
Use air-conditioning regularly while at home or driving to keep air flowing (without too much pollen getting inside). High-efficiency filters that are regularly maintained and replaced will help alleviate pollen allergies, too.
Consider wearing a mask outdoors when counts are high — or when you’re planning on handling organic material, such as grass or plants while mowing the lawn or gardening.
Or, assign those chores to others until the counts are better controlled and the conditions are right.
When you come inside from any outdoor activity, immediately remove your clothes and shower. This will help remove sticky pollen from your hair and skin.
Avoid drying clothes and linens outside since pollen can stick to these and may persist until cleaned again.
Pollen can also stick to pet fur.
Be careful around furry pets that spend a great deal of time outdoors. If they also spend a lot of time inside, keeping them brushed and bathed regularly will help decrease the amount of pollen they bring with them.
Pollen is a sticky substance that can affix to surfaces and become embedded in soft fabrics.
Wipe surfaces down with a cloth and antibacterial spray, and vacuum soft fabrics — especially after visitors leave.
Vacuum regularly using a vacuum with a HEPA filter will help remove pollen brought inside by pets or people. Try to do this once or twice a week at a minimum during the pollen season.
Saline nasal solutions can clean allergens like pollen — as well as other irritants and mucus — from your nose, thereby decreasing symptoms.
Nasal solutions are available in a variety of forms from gentle mists or sprays (such as the brand-name spray, Simply Saline) to high volume washes, such as Neti pots devices.
Nasal sprays are another OTC medication. Nasal sprays are considered an effective allergy treatment for most people since they help reduce a variety of nasal symptoms including congestion.
Nasal steroids have also been shown to improve asthma, conjunctivitis, sleep disorders and quality of life impairment. They are approved for children as young as two years of age and are most effective when used daily at least two weeks prior to the start of pollen season and continued through the end of the season.
Oral antihistamines can work fast to help prevent and treat symptoms of pollen allergy including itchy nose, eyes, sneezing and drainage. Options such as cetirizine (Zyrtec®) are approved for children as young as 6 months of age. Less-sedating, second-generation forms are preferred and include cetirizine, fexofenadine, levocetirizine and loratadine.
Nasal antihistamines such as azelastine can also help with a variety of nasal symptoms and can be used as add-ons to oral antihistamines or intranasal steroids. They are only available through a prescription.
Ocular antihistamines such as Olopatadine (Patanol®, Pataday® and Pazeo®) are effective at treating uncomfortable eye itching, redness and drainage. These are also available over the counter.
If you want to treat the root of your pollen allergy (and not just the symptoms), you may want to consider allergy immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy builds the immune system’s allergy tolerance by exposing the body to small, controlled amounts of pollen and other allergens.
Over time and with regular use, your symptoms may decrease. As a result, you may also decrease your need for medications.
Immunotherapy is prescribed by experienced clinicians in two forms, including subcutaneous and sublingual.
Subcutaneous immunotherapy is an FDA-approved method that has been around for over 100 years.
This type of immunotherapy may be administered via injection at a doctor’s office by a physician or allergy specialist. This often occurs weekly for several months; afterward, injections are spaced to monthly over time. All of your pollen allergies among others (i.e dust mite, cat, dog) may be treated with subcutaneous immunotherapy.
Although this type of immunotherapy is very safe, there is a chance of an anaphylactic reaction.
As a result, your physician may typically require you to stay in their office for up to 45 minutes after each injection and suggest keeping an epinephrine device with you in the event of a reaction once you leave the office.
Sublingual Immunotherapy is performed by placing the allergen under your tongue. This type of immunotherapy can be taken from the comfort of your home.
SLIT-T is FDA-approved. However, these tablets only treat one allergen at a time.
Currently available tablets for pollen allergy include Oralair (5-grass mix), Grastek (Timothy grass) and Ragwitek (Ragweed). The first dose must be administered in a physician’s office but the rest of the treatment may be continued at home.
Epinephrine devices are also required as in allergy shots, but anaphylaxis is much less common.
SLIT-D is another type of sublingual immunotherapy. It is considered “off-label” and only prescribed by experienced clinicians in the U.S. (but sublingual immunotherapy has been prescribed by several European countries for over 30 years).
This method uses the same FDA-approved allergy extracts that are found in subcutaneous immunotherapy by applying them under the tongue daily. Also, all of your unique allergies can be treated as per SCIT.
SLIT-D can be administered daily from the comfort of your own home, and observation of the first dose is per your clinician's discretion. Epinephrine is not required but is recommended. Like SLIT-T, anaphylaxis is much less common.
A great way to discuss immunotherapy options is at Curex.
After completing an online questionnaire, you can upload your previous allergy test results or order an at-home allergy test online.
After your tests are reviewed by one of the experienced Curex-affiliated clinicians, you will have the opportunity to chat with them and discuss your options.
If it appears that SLIT-D is your best option, Curex immunotherapy can be prescribed and shipped to your door. Start treating the cause of your allergies without stepping foot in an allergy office — or even leaving your couch.