Summer is unofficially on, and that means three months full of sun, heat -- and allergy triggers.
The fully bloomed trees and green grass may be nice to look at, but the pollen they harbor can bring allergy sufferers misery during the spring and summer months.
But it's not just that ubiquitous powdery substance that can trigger sniffling, sneezing and itchy eyes during the hotter months. Experts say the allergy triggers on the following pages can be more common during the summer.
No matter what the season, pollen is in the air, ready to set off allergy attacks.
"Pollens will vary from region to region, but they follow a sequential pattern everywhere," said Dr. Harold Nelson, an allergist at National Jewish Health in Denver. "It's tree pollen mostly in the spring before the leaves come out. In late spring it's grass pollen, and starting usually in late July or August it's weed pollen. And the most important one is ragweed."
"There's a global expansion of pollen. There's more of it and it's more powerful," said Dr. Clifford Bassett, a clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Allergy experts say of the summer allergens, pollen is the most common and affects the most people. While it's not possible to avoid pollen entirely, Bassett offered a number of tips for minimizing its effects.
"Avoid bringing in those pesky pollens and mold spores into your home via an air sucking fan, especially during the allergy season if you are a sufferer," he said.
He also recommends exercising indoors on days when pollen count is high, which is often on dry, warm and windy days. Levels are also typically highest in the mid-day and afternoon.
And not only is accessorizing fashionable, it can also help minimize exposure to pollen. Bassett recommends wearing oversized sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to prevent pollen from getting on the face and into eyes.
People should also wash their hair at night to eliminate pollen and change clothing before getting into bed. Additionally, keep windows closed while driving and keep air conditioners running on the 're-circulate' setting, Bassett added.
Outdoor mold is the culprit behind many allergic reactions starting in late summer and fall when there is a peak in the amount of some types of mold spores, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
There are many types of mold, but only a few can trigger allergies, the academy says on its web site. Mold can also trigger asthma and while certain types can be especially problematic at certain times of the year, mold can be a nuisance all the time.
One of the more common types, Alternaria, tends to peak at different times throughout the year.
"Alternaria, one of the most common types, can peak at any time," said Dr. J. Allen Meadows, chair of the public education committee at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). "There's also mildew and mold indoors."
The number of certain mold spores may also increase on humid days.
Indoor mold can also cause a reaction. If a person experiences symptoms when in a damp or moldy place, that could indicate a mold allergy.
The academy suggests that people with mold allergies avoid being outdoors when mold counts are high, and also wear a mask when mowing lawns or working around plants.
To prevent indoor mold, take steps to get rid of any moisture or dampness, such as repairing leaks and using dehumidifiers.
Avoiding a painful encounter is just one reason to steer clear of stinging insects. Insect stings are also a well-known summer allergy trigger that can lead to a severe reaction known as anaphylaxis.
"Stings are much less common, but can be more dangerous," said Nelson. "People can have systemic reactions, which can be life-threatening. A number of people die each year as a result of allergic reactions to stings."
According to the ACAAI, about 2 million Americans are allergic to insect stings, and about 50,000 end up in emergency rooms because of a reaction to an insect sting.
Bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets are most active during the late summer and early fall, and fire ants are active throughout the year in some parts of the country, the ACAAI says on its web site.
The best way to avoid getting stung, the ACAAI explains, is to avoid the insects altogether.
People should not walk barefoot in areas where there are insects, and should not drink from open cans where insects may have snuck in for a meal. People should also keep food covered when outdoors, and should avoid wearing anything that smells sweet and clothing that is brightly colored or floral.
"Wearing insect repellent is also important if you're going to be outdoors in areas where there are mosquitoes and ticks," Bassett added.
|Poison ivy and sunscreen|
While not especially common, poison ivy and sunscreen do pose allergy hazards during the warmer seasons.
"The most common outdoor allergen is poison ivy," Bassett said.
"Sensitivity to poison ivy and the related plants is very common, but most people have figured out how to avoid it, or they get a case of it and treat it and that's the end of it," Nelson added. "It's mostly a problem with people who have occupational exposure in the woods or brush who can't avoid it."
To avoid a brush with poison ivy, stay in open areas and away from bushes and other plants, the ACAAI advises.
Sunscreen allergies are also not common, especially since most of the available sunscreens are hypoallergenic. However, reactions can happen.
"It can be a blocking agent or the fragrances," said Meadows. Reactions can also be caused by the parabens, which are chemicals used as preservatives.
Allergic reactions to food can happen at any time, but for some people, summer fruits and vegetables can be anything but juicy and delicious.
Some people who are allergic to certain pollens can suffer from a cross-reaction after they eat certain foods, such as melons, apples and celery, according to the ACAAI.
The condition is known as oral allergy syndrome, Nelson added, and symptoms include itching, tingling or swelling of the mouth.
Unlike serious reactions that can occur with food allergies, oral allergy syndrome is rarely life-threatening. People can either put up with the symptoms or avoid eating the offending food.