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The sneezing, itchy and watery eyes — along with other cold-like symptoms — are often known as hay fever. In reality, spring allergies have nothing to do with hay or fever. Instead, they are caused by pollen and mold. Pollen from grass, trees and ragweed plants floats in the air. Outdoors, mold grows in fields and on dead leaves.
Pollen and mold are hard to avoid. Experts say a single ragweed plant can release one billion tiny pollen grains. Mold spores are even more prolific and grow all around us.
All of us have an allergy protein in our bodies, and we all breathe in pollen and mold. Since pollen and mold are allergens, they can cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to them (about 25% of all people).
An allergic response happens when a protein in the blood (immunoglobin E) releases a chemical called histamine.
Histamine shrinks small blood vessels in the nose. This causes fluids to leak out into other tissues and trigger allergy symptoms. Someone’s nose might run. Their eyes might water. Their skin might itch or swell.
The first step is a visit to your doctor. Share your full history. Include details about your life, home and work environments, along with your eating habits. Your doctor will look for clues about which triggers may be causing your allergies.
Your doctor may do a skin test and place small amounts of common allergens on your forearm or back. If you are allergic, your skin will become red, swollen or itchy.
Once you know what’s causing your allergies, your doctor may suggest over the counter medicines to relieve your runny nose, sneezing and itching. Allergy drugs come in tablets, nose sprays, eye drops, and liquid form. In some cases, the doctor might suggest allergy shots.
Limiting exposure to the allergens also can help reduce symptoms. Try these tips:
Allergies don't only affect us as grown-ups, though! We asked kids to tell us what they think about allergies. Their adorable reactions inspire us to learn more about ways we can help ourselves stay comfortable.
Do you have a tried and true way to survive allergy season? Let us know your tricks in the comments.
Originally published 5/20/2016; Revised 2020, 2023
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