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Preparing for Seasonal Allergies | Overview

Spring is around the corner, which means seasonal allergies are too. Over 50 million Americans suffer from allergies each year. Both children and adults can experience a wide range of symptoms, including sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and itching of the nose, throat, roof of the mouth, and inner ears. Dr. Melissa Iammatteo, allergist & immunologist at Boston Children’s Health Physicians, answers frequently asked questions from parents.

Why do we experience seasonal allergies?

Seasonal allergies, sometimes called “hay fever,” occur in patients whose immune systems recognize pollen from trees, grass, and weeds as invaders (allergens) and release chemicals in the body to fight them off.  The release of these chemicals, which include histamine, trigger allergy symptoms.

What is a pollen count?

A pollen count is calculated based on the measurement of grains of pollen in a cubic meter of air.  The higher the count, the greater the likelihood a person suffering from seasonal allergies will experience symptoms, particularly when outdoors.

How to tell if your baby is suffering from seasonal allergies?

Seasonal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis, typically require a few years of exposure to allergens to develop. Therefore, it is uncommon for seasonal allergies to occur in children under two years of age.

When should you see a doctor?

If you think your child has seasonal allergies, speak to your doctor. To determine which allergens are causing symptoms, an allergist can perform a skin prick test, also known as a scratch test, with small drops of a variety of environmental allergens.  This test can be performed on the forearm or upper back. 

If a child has any difficulty breathing, persistent coughing, wheezing, or chest tightness, they should be immediately evaluated by a doctor since seasonal allergies can trigger asthma.

When can we expect seasonal allergies to be the worst?

In most areas of the United States, spring allergies begin as early as February and can last until early summer. Spring allergies are caused by tree pollens. If the preceding winter is mild, trees can pollinate rather early. In late spring and summer, grass pollination can trigger symptoms. From late summer until the first frost occurs, often in early November, weeds and ragweed pollen are the most common culprits for seasonal allergies. Ragweed pollen levels tend to be highest in early to mid-September.

Pollen levels tend to rise during the morning and peak around midday. Pollen counts also surge on windy days.

Rainy weather can also lead to an increase in mold in the environment, which is another environmental allergen that can trigger symptoms. Mold grows quickly in heat and high humidity.

What are some ways to reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies?

  • Keep windows and doors closed during allergy season.
  • Check pollen forecasts and stay indoors when pollen counts are high.
  • Avoid outdoor activities in the early morning when pollen counts peak.
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses outdoors to help keep pollen out of your eyes and hair.
  • After spending time outdoors, immediately change your clothes when you enter the home and shower to rinse off pollen.
  • If you have a pet that spends time outdoors, wipe their feet and fur before they enter the home to reduce tracking pollen indoors.
  • Consider use of a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to eliminate any airborne allergens that make their way into the home.
  • Carpets and rugs can trap allergens. If they cannot be eliminated from the home, vacuum them thoroughly.
  • Certain patients may require treatment with antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays and should discuss treatment with their physician. Treatment tends to work best when started early in the pollen season before symptoms begin.
  • If these tips and medications do not provide enough relief, an allergist can determine whether a child is a good candidate for allergy shots (immunotherapy).

Do allergens effect air quality?

Yes, tiny pollen particles can affect air quality and contribute to what is known as particle pollution. Research has shown that air pollutants can also aggravate allergy symptoms.

Although very common, allergies can be irritating and uncomfortable. To make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician or a Boston Children’s Health Physicians allergist visit our website.

BCHP wishes you a healthy and happy spring filled with warmth and brightness!