An estimated 50 million Americans suffer from allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). Itchy, watery eyes and a stuffy nose can make you feel uncomfortable, irritable and frustrated, as sneeze after sneeze erupts and disrupts your day. Seasonal allergies affect millions every year and are commonly known as hay fever or perennial allergies.
Cold or allergy — how can you tell? Throughout the year, we're often plagued with the sniffles, a scratchy or sore throat, itchy eyes and general achiness. When you're suffering from one or more of these symptoms, it can be hard to determine if it's a cold or allergy. In general, allergies present without aches and pains, rarely a cough or sore throat, and never a fever. Allergy symptoms tend to include nasal issues including sneezing, congestion and a runny nose. Other allergy symptoms may include itchy eyes and even mild fatigue.
Seasonal or other allergies? All allergies are the immune system's overreaction to an allergen. Dr. James M. Steckelberg of the Mayo Clinic says, "If you tend to get 'colds' that develop suddenly and occur at the same time every year, it's possible that you actually have seasonal allergies." Seasonal allergies are triggered by outdoor allergens. According to the AAFA, tree, grass and weed pollen, and mold spores are the most common outdoor allergy triggers.
Treatment options. Many seasonal allergy symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter medications, but it's important to ask your doctor first before taking anything. If your seasonal allergies are severe, your doctor may prescribe a nasal steroid spray or another antihistamine or decongestant. You can try to limit your outdoor exposure to reduce symptoms, as well. When indoors, avoid opening windows and opt to run the air conditioning as needed. Always wash your hands when you return from outdoors.
Pollen counts. The pollen count is simply the number of plant pollen grains in a specific amount of air at a specific time. The higher the pollen count, the more likely your allergy will be affected. Tree pollen is heavier in the late winter and spring, while grass pollens are more abundant in the late spring and summer months. Seasonal allergy sufferers can track their area pollen counts by referring to the National Allergy Bureau (NAB) or visiting the pollen count page at the Weather Channel online. If the pollen counts are high for the day, it might be advisable to avoid prolonged outdoor activity.