When Is Allergy Season?
During certain seasons, plants produce tiny, harmless particles called pollen that fertilize other plants. Pollen is transported by the wind through the air, frequently ending up in our eyes and nose. If your body mistakes pollen for something harmful, it releases antibodies and histamine to combat it, which can often cause an allergic reaction.
The release of pollen from trees and grasses depends on the date, not the weather; this makes the onslaught of allergies predictable. According to Robert Wood, M.D., director of pediatric allergy clinics at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, in Baltimore, "Your local allergist should have this kind of information for your area, which you can use to plan activities or drug treatment."
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So when do symptoms usually start, and when is allergy season over? Here’s what you need to know about seasonal allergies throughout the year.
When is Peak Allergy Season?
While allergy season varies based on date and location, there are some general guidelines: tree pollen is usually released in spring, grass and weed pollen in summer, and ragweed pollen in autumn, says David Stukus, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
The biggest springtime offenders are pollens from trees such as oak, ash, elm, hickory, box elder, pecan, and mountain cedar. "Trees can release millions of grains of pollen a day, which can travel for hundreds of miles," says Mark Jacobson, M.D., an allergy and asthma specialist in Hinsdale, Illinois. "Even if you don't have trees in your yard, the pollen is still there." Children who live east of the Rockies tend to get hit the worst, especially from mid-April to early May.
Spring allergy season may start as early as February, depending on where you live. But the good news is that there's an end in sight. Your child's symptoms should clear up by May, although some cases can last until mid-July.
In late spring—usually May—people begin to suffer from allergies to various types of grasses, says Dr. Todd Mahr, Director of Pediatric Allergy/Asthma/Immunology at Gunderson Lutheran Hospital in La Crosse, Wisconsin. These grasses include timothy, johnson, Bermuda, redtop, orchard, sweet vernal, and Kentucky bluegrass. Grasses and weeds tend to spur symptoms throughout the summer months.
"Unfortunately, if your child reacts to pollen in the spring, you can probably look forward to hay fever and allergies in the fall as well," says Dr. Wood. "Allergic people tend to react to more than one trigger."
Ragweed allergies may flare up in mid-August to the end of September, says Dr. Mahr. Children sensitive to mold may also experience allergy symptoms in the fall, since mold develops in piles of leaves mixed with moisture.
What About Perennial Allergies?
Perennial allergies are year-round, indoor allergies to things like dust, mold, cockroaches, feathers, and pet dander. “Individuals may have symptoms occasionally or throughout the year, depending on what kind of allergies they have,” explains Dr. Mahr. These usually come with a less runny nose and fewer sneezes, but more nasal congestion and post-nasal drip that can make your child have trouble sleeping. Unlike seasonal allergies, perennial allergies aren’t usually influenced by pollen, trees, or grasses.
My Child Has Seasonal Allergies: Now What?
If you suspect your child has allergies, talk to your pediatrician (there's no need to go straight to an allergist since most pediatricians can treat mild to moderate allergies very effectively). Most doctors suggest keeping a record of your child's symptoms, since the key to diagnosing allergies is identifying an emerging pattern. Include information like: what the symptoms were, the time of day they were triggered, and what your child was doing when they occurred.
If your child is diagnosed with allergies, she will most likely be treated with a two-step approach: avoiding the triggers as much as possible and taking some kind of medication. Doctors often start by suggesting an over-the-counter daily antihistamine like Claritin or Zyrtec, depending on your child’s age.