Tips to Control Seasonal Allergies

Many people look forward to spring and summer, but if you’re one of the millions of people who suffer from seasonal allergies, it can be a miserable time marked by sneezing, congestion, coughing, and wheezing. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to control your allergies, from simple lifestyle changes to medications and allergy shots. 

Common Allergy Triggers 

For much of the United States, spring allergies usually start in February and run through early summer, but this can vary depending on rainfall and when the trees and grasses begin to pollinate. More mild winters can cause early pollination, while rainy springs, like what we’ve experienced in Sonoma County this year, can cause seasonal allergies to last well into the fall.

Some of the most common summer allergy triggers in our area are:

  • Black walnut
  • Narrow-leafed willow
  • Olive
  • Beach Wormwood
  • Black Mustard
  • Coastal Sagebrush
  • Coastal Wormwood
  • Coyote Brush
  • Douglas’ Wormwood
  • Mat Amaranth
  • Pennsylvania Pellitory
  • Perennial Ragweed
  • Rape
  • Silver Burr-Ragweed
  •  Smooth Amaranth
  • Tumbling Orache
  • Bermuda Grass
  • Black Bent
  • Colonial Bent
  • Common Timothy
  • Corn
  • Curly Bluegrass
  • Elliot’s Bent
  • Large Sweet Vernal Grass
  • Orchard Grass
  • Perennial Rye Grass
  • Prairie Koehler’s Grass
  • Red Fescue
  • Soft Brome
  • Spreading Bent

Although seasonal allergies typically refer to pollen and mold, there are several different types of allergy triggers that are linked to particular seasons, including:

  • Smoke from summer campfires and fireplaces in the winter
  • Insect bites and stings in the spring and summer
  • Chlorine from swimming pools
  • Candy ingredients from seasonal holidays like Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter
  • Pine trees and conifer wreaths during the holiday season

Several other climate and timing factors that can influence the intensity of your symptoms, such as:

  • Cool nights and warm days increase tree and grass pollen counts.
  • High heat and humidity increase mold growth.
  • Pollen levels are typically highest in the morning and on windy days.
  • Rainfall can temporarily wash away pollen, but pollen counts may rise afterward.
  • Calm weather keeps airborne allergens on the ground.

Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal allergies commonly trigger the following symptoms: 

  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Runny nose and sneezing
  • Itchy nose and/or throat
  • Postnasal drip
  • Watery, itchy, and/or red eyes
  • Swollen or dark circles under the eyes
  • Tiredness and fatigue

If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms during certain times of the year, you may have seasonal allergies. More than 2/3 of allergy sufferers experience symptoms throughout the year; if you always seem to have a cough or congestion, you should visit an allergist to find out what’s causing your symptoms. 

How Are Seasonal Allergies Diagnosed?

Determining what causes your seasonal allergies can help you reduce your exposure. If you’re not sure what you’re allergic to, a skin prick test can quickly help you identify your most common triggers, including pollen, mold, dust, and pets. During a skin prick test, you’ll receive a small scratch or pin prick on your skin—usually on your forearm or back. A small amount of allergen is then injected into your skin. If a red or raised bump appears after 15 minutes, you’re likely allergic to that substance. 

Another way to diagnose your seasonal allergies is through a blood test, which can help you determine which type of pollens you have a sensitivity to. However, regardless of the type of allergy testing performed, it’s important to make sure you’ve had allergy symptoms; positive tests without a history of symptoms don’t mean you actually have allergies. 

Home Allergy Management

One of the best ways to manage your allergies is to identify your triggers and take steps to avoid them. For example, if you have allergies to pollen, keep an eye on the pollen count and air quality index before enjoying outdoor activities. Keep in mind that if you’re taking a trip to a different area, the pollen count may be higher there. 

There are also several steps you can take around your home to reduce the impact of seasonal or environmental allergies:

  • Use dehumidifiers in the spring, summer, and fall to remove excess moisture that can contribute to mold and mildew growth
  • Use humidifiers in the dry winter months to add moisture to your home and soothe your respiratory system. Keep in mind that adding humidity to your home can increase the dust mite population. 
  • Replace your regular HVAC filters with HEPA filters to help trap and remove airborne allergens like pet dander and pollen. Make to check your filters regularly (at least once a month) and replace them as needed. 
  • Consider using an air purifier to remove smaller particles your HVAC filters can’t catch. 
  • Keep your home clean; vacuum twice a week, especially if you have pets. 
  • Keep your windows shut when pollen counts are high and run an air filter or your HVAC system to help catch any allergens that make their way indoors.
  • Wash your bedding in hot or warm water every 1 to 2 weeks. 
  • Take a shower and wash your hair right after you return home from work to wash the pollen off you. 
  • Keep pets out of your bedroom. 
  • Wear a NIOSH-rated 95 filter mask when working outdoors.
  • Consider using nasal washes (like a neti pot) with sinus rinses to help flush out allergens and reduce inflammation. 

Allergy Medications

There are numerous over-the-counter (OTC) medications available for seasonal allergies, but finding the best one to use depending your specific symptoms.

  • Antihistamines work by blocking histamine, the chemical that’s released during an allergic reaction. Although antihistamines like Benadryl can cause drowsiness, newer antihistamines like Claritin, Allegra, and Zyrtec have fewer side effects. Antihistamine eye drops are also available for itchy, watery eyes. 
  • Nasal steroid sprays like Flonase and Nasacort work well in combination with antihistamines to help reduce inflammation, congestion, a runny nose, and sneezing.
  • Decongestants like Sudafed can help with stuffiness, but they should only be used short-term due to their potential side effects. 

Additionally, vitamin C has been shown to act as a natural histamine. If OTC medications aren’t effective in reducing your symptoms, you may need to try prescription medication. It’s always recommended to work with your doctor to develop an effective allergy treatment plan before using any new medications or supplements.

Since allergy season is somewhat predictable, you may find you get more relief if you start taking your allergy medication before your symptoms begin. For example, start taking your allergy medication about two weeks before allergy season starts, then take them regularly until the end of the season. Once allergens start to cause inflammation, it can take longer to get relief from your symptoms. Since many oral antihistamines take about 30 minutes to take effect and last 24 hours, many patients find it’s most effective to take them at bedtime. 


If you have severe allergies, your doctor may recommend immunotherapy, which is designed to address your immune response to allergens. During immunotherapy, you’ll be gradually exposed to increasing amounts of specific allergens to help your body build a tolerance to them. Over time, your immune system won’t see those allergens as a threat. 

Although immunotherapy is very effective for approximately 85% of allergy patients, it takes time to work. You’ll need to make regular trips to your doctor to receive the injections or tablets, and the process can take up to three to five years before you see permanent relief from your symptoms.

Discover Your Triggers, Find Relief from Your Symptoms

If you’ve never talked to a doctor about your allergies, contact Dr. Jennifer Hubert. As an internist who takes a holistic approach, she treats the whole patient—not just the symptoms. Using diagnostics to determine your allergy triggers, she can provide personalized recommendations to help you manage your allergies with greater comfort and well-being. To schedule a consultation, contact Dr. Hubert’s office today at (707) 380-1838.