Common Seasonal Allergies and Symptoms
Nearly everyone is familiar with the chronic congestion, runny nose, and watery eyes that come in the spring and fall when seasonal allergies are at their worst. Seasonal allergies can cause allergic conjunctivitis (affecting the eyes), allergic rhinitis (affecting the nose), and allergy-induced asthma (affecting the airways).
Seasonal allergies, also called hay fever, peak in certain seasons. Allergens like pet dander and house dust mites are allergens that are present all year and cause perennial allergies. 1 Allergic rhinitis can be classified as persistent, intermittent, or episodic. Persistent allergic rhinitis lasts longer than four weeks or more than four days per week.2
How Common Are Seasonal Allergies?
Allergens have seasonal patterns, which helps the more than 25% of American adults and 19% of children who experience seasonal allergies each year identify their triggers. About 4.1 million people visit their doctor’s offices each year and receive a diagnosis of allergic rhinitis.
Signs of Seasonal Allergies
Seasonal allergies can cause symptoms that range from mild to severe. Mild rhinitis does not impair daily function or sleeping patterns. Severe rhinitis is so disruptive to daily life that treatment is required.2
The most common seasonal allergy symptoms include:2
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy eyes, nose, throat, and sinuses
- Ear congestion and pain
- Postnasal drip
More serious seasonal allergy symptoms include:3
- Shortness of breath
Conditions With Symptoms Similar to Allergies
Runny nose, nasal congestion, and itchiness are general symptoms that can be found in other conditions.
It can be difficult to distinguish between the common cold and allergies because they share the same symptoms. However, you can get clues from your symptom patterns. If your symptoms seem to linger and present at the same time every year, they are likely due to allergies instead of a cold.
Viruses cause colds. You may notice symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, a sore throat, and muscle aches if you have a cold. Itchiness and watery eyes are more typical of allergies than colds. Cold symptoms usually go away in about a week, but allergy symptoms tend to last all season.
The influenza viruses cause contagious respiratory diseases. Like colds and allergies, influenza viruses are transmitted through the air and enter the respiratory tract. Flu symptoms tend to have a more abrupt onset than colds and allergies. The symptoms are also more severe. Typical flu symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
The SARS-CoV-2 virus causes COVID-19. Like influenza and the viruses that cause colds, SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus. Symptoms of COVID-19 vary from asymptomatic to severe lung disease with complications.
COVID-19 symptoms can be difficult to distinguish from sinusitis or influenza. Typical COVID-19 symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Runny Nose
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of taste and smell
- Muscle aches
When you get a viral infection or severe allergies, mucus can sit in the sinuses and get infected. The sinuses are hollow chambers in the facial bones. They are lined with mucous membranes, and they drain into the nose.
When a virus or allergen enters the nose and sinuses and causes congestion, the opening that drains the sinuses into the nose can swell shut. This traps mucus in the sinuses, allowing bacteria or viruses to overgrow.
Symptoms of a sinus infection include:
- Facial pain
- Tenderness when pressing on facial bones
- Teeth pain
- Runny nose
- Bad breath
- Sore throat
Bacteria, viruses, allergens, or contact with chemicals or foreign bodies can cause pink eye, or conjunctivitis. Pink eye symptoms overlap with cold and allergy symptoms. However, conjunctivitis is more localized to the eyes instead of causing other respiratory symptoms.
It is not unusual to have allergic conjunctivitis and allergic rhinitis simultaneously. The eye is connected to the upper chamber of the nose through the tear duct. Allergens that enter the eyes or nose can cause itchiness, a runny nose, tearing, and congestion.
If you have respiratory symptoms and are unsure whether they are due to allergies or an infection, schedule an online appointment with a telehealth doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and the treatment you need.
Causes of Seasonal Allergies
Like food allergies, seasonal allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to an allergen. The most common allergens are pollens from trees, grasses, and weeds.
When pollens are in the air, they can land on your eyes, nose, and skin. They are small enough to enter the lungs as well. The common causes of allergies can vary with the season. Unfortunately, you can be allergic to more than one thing and therefore have symptoms through many seasons or even all year.
The most common allergens in each season are:
- Spring: trees and grasses, molds if there is a lot of rain
- Summer: grass and ragweed
- Fall: ragweed
- Winter (main allergens may be indoors): home dust mite waste, cockroaches, and pet dander
How To Treat Seasonal Allergies
Treatments for seasonal allergies vary depending on the severity of your symptoms. Some allergy medications are available over the counter, and some are prescription only. In general, treatment for systemic or more severe allergies requires a prescription.
Classes of allergy medications:
- Antihistamines: These medications block histamine, a chemical that causes blood vessels to dilate and calls immune cells to the area where the allergens are entering your body. Histamine causes redness, rashes, runny nose, watery eyes, and congestion. Antihistamines can treat these symptoms. Antihistamines are available over the counter and by prescription.
- Decongestants: These medications constrict blood vessels. They are used to treat congestion. They may increase blood pressure, so ask your doctor if this is a concern for you. Decongestant nasal sprays shrink blood vessels in the nose and have fewer systemic side effects, but they can cause rebound swelling and stuffiness if they are used for more than three days. Most decongestants are available over the counter.
- Nasal corticosteroids: These nasal sprays are meant to be used regularly throughout the allergy season. They reduce inflammation and swelling. Nasal corticosteroids are available over the counter and by prescription.
- Mast cell stabilizers: These medications block mast cells from releasing histamine, the chemical that causes nasal congestion, runny nose, and itching. Mast cell stabilizers are used to treat asthma and allergies. They come as inhalers, oral solutions, and eye drops. Mast cell stabilizers are available by prescription.
- Oral corticosteroids: These medications are used to reduce swelling and treat severe allergic reactions. They are available by prescription only.
- Epinephrine: This medication comes in a pre-measured and self-injectable pen. It is used to treat severe allergic reactions called anaphylaxis. Epinephrine pens are available by prescription only.
If you have tried over-the-counter medications to treat your allergy symptoms and they are not working well for you, contact an online doctor to ask about getting a prescription online.
How To Manage Seasonal Allergies
Reducing your exposure to seasonal allergens can help you manage seasonal allergies. Tips for reducing allergen exposure:
- Check the daily pollen count and stay indoors when it is high
- Keep windows closed when the pollen count is high
- Encase bedding in dust mite covers
- Whenever possible, use hard surface floors
- Wash bedding weekly in hot water
- Use small particulate furnace filters
- Check humidity in the basement to reduce mold
- Change your clothes after being outside
When To See a Doctor About Allergies
See your online telehealth doctor about allergies if you have persistent mild-to-moderate symptoms, get a refill for medications used to treat chronic allergy symptoms, or get an online evaluation and diagnosis if you are unsure whether an allergen or a virus causes your symptoms.
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
1. Sin B, Togias A. Pathophysiology of allergic and nonallergic rhinitis. Proc Am Thorac Soc. Mar 2011;8(1):106-14. doi:10.1513/pats.201008-057RN
2. Beard S. Rhinitis. Prim Care. Mar 2014;41(1):33-46. doi:10.1016/j.pop.2013.10.005
3. Wallace DV, Dykewicz MS. Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis: A focused systematic review and practice parameter update. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. Aug 2017;17(4):286-294. doi:10.1097/aci.0000000000000375