The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America thanks Stallergenes Greer for sponsoring this blog post.
What Is a Grass Pollen Allergy?
If your allergies are worse in the spring and summer time, you may have a grass pollen allergy.
Grasses are the most common cause of allergy. Each year, plants (including grasses) release tiny pollen grains to fertilize other plants of the same species. Unfortunately for people with grass allergies, these pollens trigger allergic reactions. Symptoms of grass pollen allergy include:
- Runny nose
- Itchy nose, eyes, ears and mouth
- Stuffy nose (nasal congestion)
- Red and watery eyes
- Swelling around the eyes
You may not see the grass pollen in the air, but your body can react to even small amounts.
Many people know pollen allergy as “hay fever.” Experts usually refer to pollen allergy as “seasonal allergic rhinitis.”
What Types of Grasses Cause Allergy Symptoms?
If you have a grass pollen allergy, you may be allergic to more than one type of grass.
There are hundreds of types of grasses, but only a few are responsible for allergy symptoms. Your geographic location may determine which grasses may be responsible for your symptoms.
The most common types of grasses that cause allergies are:
- Sweet Vernal
When Is the Grass Pollen Season?
In northern regions of the United States, grasses usually pollinate in the late spring or early summer. In southern regions, grasses may pollinate throughout many seasons and could trigger symptoms throughout the year.
These small, light and dry grass pollen grains are released into the air and can travel for hundreds of miles by the wind.
How Can I Prevent Allergic Reactions to Grass?
Here are ten ways you can reduce allergic reactions to grass pollen:
- Limit your outdoor activities when pollen counts are high.Check your local forecast and pollen count every day. On high grass pollen count days, aim for some indoor activities like seeing a movie.
- Keep the lawn cut short. If possible, ask someone else to mow the lawn. Most grass pollen comes from the flowery top of tall grass. If you keep your lawn short, it is less likely to release pollen. Close all your house windows before someone mows your lawn.
- Keep windows closed during pollen season and use central air conditioning with a HEPA filter. This applies both to your home and to any vehicle (car, bus, train, etc.).
- Bathe and shampoo your hair daily before going to bed. This will remove pollen from your hair and skin and keep it off your bedding.
- Wash bedding in hot, soapy water once a week.
- Wear sunglasses and a hat. This will help keep pollen out of your eyes and off your hair. You can also wear long pants if you will be in contact with grasses.
- Change and wash clothes worn during outdoor activities.
- Dry your clothes in a clothes dryer, not on an outdoor line.
- If you have furry pets, wipe their fur off with a towel before entering your home. Also, keep pets out of your bedroom and off your bed.
- Start an allergy treatment.
How Can I Manage My Grass Allergy Symptoms?
The first step is to get properly tested and diagnosed. Once your doctor/allergist knows what specific allergens cause your symptoms, he or she can work with you to create a plan.
There are over-the-counter and prescription pills, liquids or nasal sprays that can help reduce or prevent grass allergy symptoms. These medicines include antihistamines, decongestants and nasal corticosteroids. Most allergy medicines work best when you start taking them before pollen season begins. This allows the medicine to prevent your body from releasing histamine and other chemicals that cause your symptoms.
However, many people with pollen allergy do not get complete relief from these medicines. This means they may be candidates for immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a long-term treatment that can help prevent or reduce the severity of allergic reactions. It can change the course of allergic disease by modifying the body’s immune response to allergens.
There are two types of immunotherapy available for grass allergy: allergy shots and allergy tablets.
- Allergy Shots - Subcutaneous Immunotherapy (SCIT) is administered at the doctor’s office. It involves getting injections of allergens in an increasing dosage over time. During the course of immunotherapy, a person with grass allergy becomes progressively less sensitive to that allergen. Patients may experience relief within one to three years of starting SCIT. The most common side effects for SCIT include local reactions at the injection site, such as redness, itching, swelling, tenderness and pain. Less common systemic reactions may include generalized redness, hives, itching, swelling, wheezing and low blood pressure.
- Allergy Tablets – Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT) is a more recent form of immunotherapy that can be done at home. It is needle-free, and involves placing a tablet containing the allergen under the tongue for 1 to 2 minutes and then swallowing it. Treatment begins prior to the grass allergy season and continues throughout the grass allergy season. By taking these tablets every day, you may reduce your grass allergy symptoms. This treatment offers people with these allergies a potential alternative to allergy shots. SLIT tablets also have side effects and some may be serious, which is why it’s important to talk with your doctor about your treatment options.
Both forms of allergy immunotherapy (shots and tablets) are prescribed by your doctor. Talk to your health care provider to get started on your allergy treatment plan.