Most people associate allergies with spring’s high tree pollen counts. But if you find yourself sniffling and sneezing your way through the hottest months of the year, you may be one of the millions worldwide who suffer from summer allergies. The causes of summer allergies range from air pollution to grass and weed pollen to microscopic pests multiplying in your home.
As summer heats up, ragweed, sagebrush, and Bermuda, blue, orchard, and timothy grasses begin sending their own bursts of pollen skyward. In addition, the combination of strong sunlight and pollution from car exhaust fumes causes spikes of allergy-inducing smog in the summer. And the tiny dust mite, a microscopic relative of spiders and ticks, is a dangerous allergen-producer that lives in bedding, fabric, and carpeting and thrives in the warm, humid conditions summer brings.
Summer Allergy Symptoms
Summer allergies tend to cause the same symptoms as spring allergies. The most likely symptoms you will experience are coughing, sneezing, and wheezing, as well as an itchy, stuffy, runny nose. Your throat may feel raw or scratchy due to postnasal drip, an excess of mucus produced by glands in the back of the nose and throat. Allergic congestion can also trigger or worsen nighttime snoring and sleep issues.
Itchy, watery eyes are a hallmark allergy symptom, and summer allergies can affect your undereye area as well. “Allergic shiners,” which are purplish to bluish marks under both eyes, are caused by swelling from congestion of the small blood vessels in the delicate undereye area.
Treatment for Summer Allergy Relief
If you’re bothered by summer allergies, work with your doctor to identify your triggers and develop a plan to control your symptoms. Here are some action steps your doctor may suggest to help you through summer allergy season:
Hone in on over-the-counter (OTC) medications that treat your symptoms without causing unwanted side effects
Oral antihistamines can help relieve sneezing, itching, watery eyes, and runny noses. However, some may cause unwanted side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, restlessness, and dry mouth. Your doctor can suggest which oral antihistamines may best reduce your allergy symptoms while minimizing unpleasant side effects.
OTC steroid nasal sprays reduce swelling and inflammation in your nasal passages, making them another excellent choice for treating summer allergies. If your doctor recommends a steroid nasal spray, be sure to follow the usage instructions closely to minimize your risk of side effects such as nasal irritation, nosebleed, or sore throat.
Your doctor may also recommend oral or nasal decongestants to shrink swollen blood vessels and tissues in your nose. Whether taken as a pill, liquid, nasal spray, or nasal drops, these decongestants can temporarily relieve nasal congestion. However, they cannot help with other symptoms like sneezing, itching, or watery eyes. Nasal sprays and drops are less likely to cause common decongestant side effects such as jitteriness and insomnia. You should talk to your doctor before taking decongestants if you have diabetes, an enlarged prostate, glaucoma, a heart condition, unmanaged high blood pressure, or thyroid problems.
Other OTC medications your doctor may recommend include anticholinergic nasal sprays, which work to decrease nasal secretions from the glands lining the inside of your nose. These nasal sprays can relieve your nasal allergy symptoms without causing serious side effects. Anticholinergics work best when you begin using them before your summer allergy symptoms begin and continue using them throughout the season.
Apply lifestyle fixes that reduce your exposure to allergens
Your doctor may recommend ways for you to reduce your exposure to your trigger allergens. For those who suffer from weed and grass pollen allergies, this may include staying indoors on dry, windy days, when more pollen is present in the air. You may need to ask someone else to take on outdoor chores such as lawn mowing and weed pulling during the summers, or your doctor may recommend you wear a pollen mask while tackling outdoor activities. After any outdoor chores or activities, remove your clothing and shower to rinse pollen off of your skin and out of your hair.
Close your doors and windows when pollen counts are high, and run the air conditioning in your home and car to keep pollen out. And while it may be tempting to hang your laundry outside on sunny summer days, doing so will invite grass and weed pollen to cling to your sheets, towels, and clothing. It’s better to launder and dry your things indoors until summer allergy season has ended.
If you or your doctor suspect your summer allergies are caused by dust mites, reduce the humidity in your home to between 30 and 50% to keep dust mites from thriving. Wash your bedding weekly at the hottest water setting your washing machine allows, and be sure to dry your bedding thoroughly. Your doctor may recommend that you also purchase a special mattress and/or pillow cover to create a barrier between yourself and dust mites. You may also benefit from ditching non-washable area rugs, cloth curtains, and stuffed animals. Finally, try keeping your sleeping area free of dust-collecting clutter such as knick-knacks and piles of books, magazines, and newspapers.
Some approaches work well for both dust mite and weed and grass pollen allergy sufferers. For example, clean the air filters in your home often, and opt for high-efficiency filters when possible. A vacuum with a HEPA filter can suck pollen and dust out of the fibers of your carpet. Many allergy sufferers find that its best to wear a mask to block out any allergens that are kicked up as they vacuum and dust high-allergen areas such as bookcases, air vents, curtains, and blinds. If possible, invest in an air purifier with a true HEPA filter and run it in your bedroom while you sleep.
Rinsing your sinuses with a saline solution is a fast, effective way to find immediate relief from nasal congestion and postnasal drip while rinsing away allergens. The most common ways to deliver saline solution into your nasal passages are via a Neti pot or squeeze bottle. It’s important to mix your saline solution using water that is distilled, sterile, filtered, or previously boiled and cooled as the use of unsterilized water can cause dangerous infections.
Begin prescription medication or allergy immunotherapy
If OTC medicines and lifestyle changes aren’t helping, your doctor may prescribe a prescription-strength steroid or anticholinergic nasal spray, or a prescription antileukotriene like Montelukast. Your doctor may also recommend that you visit an allergist/immunologist and get started on a course of allergy shots, tablets, or drops, an approach also known as allergy immunotherapy. Studies have found that allergy immunotherapy prevents the development of new allergies in the majority of patients, reduces patients’ allergy symptoms by 60-70%, reduces patients’ need for allergy medications by 70%, and remains a long-lasting solution to allergy symptoms for 85% of patients.