How to Treat and Prevent Spring Allergies

People who enjoy a break from allergy symptoms in the cold winter months often dread the return of spring. With it comes an explosion pollen from trees, grass, and weeds that can trigger allergic rhinitis (hay fever).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 8% of American adults (20 million) and over 7% of children (6 million) experience seasonal allergies.


7 Tips for Avoiding Pollen Exposure

Symptoms of spring allergies include:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Mouth or throat itchiness
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest tightness

The CDC reports that children between the ages of 12 and 17 are especially vulnerable. Moreover, seasonal allergies may increase the incidence or severity of respiratory symptoms in adults and children with asthma.

Common Spring Allergens

An allergen is any substance that elicits an abnormal immune response during which the body fights off a perceived threat that is otherwise harmless.

Pollen released by trees and other plants during the spring is a common allergen. Pollen is central to plant reproduction and easily inhaled as fine, powdery particles that drift in the air.

The trees most commonly associated with allergic rhinitis in the U.S. include:

  • Ash
  • Birch
  • Cypress
  • Elm
  • Hickory
  • Maple
  • Oak
  • Poplar
  • Sycamore
  • Walnut
  • Western red cedar

In the later spring, grass pollens are the key culprit and may include:

  • Bermuda grass
  • Bluegrass
  • Orchard grass
  • Red top grass
  • Sweet vernal grass
  • Timothy grass

By contrast, weed pollen allergens like ragweed are more commonly seen in summer.

Mold spores are also a common cause of allergies starting in spring and continuing right through autumn. Common mold allergens include Alternaria and Cladosporium. Outdoor mold counts peak in the spring when the ground is thawing, and again at higher levels in the fall when large piles of fallen leaves are collecting on the ground.


Many people don't need a doctor to confirm that the rapid-fire sneezing and watery eyes they experience with the first buds of spring are due to seasonal allergies. And if they do see a physician and explain their symptoms, the doctor might not need to run tests to confirm the diagnosis either.

With that being said, if allergy symptoms are unrelenting despite treatment, you may want to have a doctor check for other causes or contributing factors. This is especially true if you have significant breathing problems.

Severe sufferers may need a referral to an allergist to identify the specific allergens. With this information, an allergist may be able to prescribe allergy shots to temper the immune response.

Patients with severe symptoms may also benefit from testing for environmental allergies because sometimes what was thought to be symptoms from allergies ends up resulting in a different diagnosis.

Seasonal Allergies Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

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Medications are typically used to either alleviate the symptoms of seasonal allergies or temper the body's response to airborne allergens.

Among the options:

  • Oral antihistamines work by suppressing histamine, a chemical produced by the body that triggers allergy symptoms. Non-sedating antihistamines like Allegra (fexofenadine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine) are usually best because they do not have the high risk for sedation, falls, and overdose that sedating antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) do.
  • Nasal decongestants are over-the-counter (OTC) products available in oral, liquid, spray, and nasal drop formulations. They offer short-term relief by causing blood vessels in the nose to shrink.
  • Nasal steroid sprays, available in regular- and prescription-strength, work by reducing the swelling and production of mucus in nasal passages.
  • Eye drops can be used to treat eye allergy symptoms. Options include short-term OTC drops that contain a topical decongestant or prescription drops that combine an antihistamine with a mast cell inhibitor.
  • Subcutaneous Immunotherapy (allergy shots): Allergy shots are prescribed by an allergist and given under supervision in a doctor's office. These contain small amounts of allergen that is gradually increasedover time. Many patients develop long-lasting tolerance (improved symptoms) to the environmental allergens included in their allergy shots."
  • Sublingual Immunotherapy: Sublingual allergy tablets or drops can also be prescribed by an allergist for certain environmental allergies. The first dose of these is given in a doctor's office but typically can be continued after that at home. Like allergy shots, some patients develop long-lasting tolerance to the environmental allergens included, although the efficacy of allergy shots is thought to be superior to the sublingual formulations.

In addition to medications, some turn to neti pots to help irrigate and open blocked nasal passages.


While there are few ways to entirely avoid allergens in the spring (or at any time, for that matter), there are precautions you can take to minimize exposure:

  • Know your pollen counts. Check your local weather forecast or the National Allergy Bureau website to get daily pollen counts as well as the breakdown of pollen or mold types.
  • Stay indoors during high counts. If you must go outdoors, do it later in the day when counts are typically lower.
  • Use an air purifier with a HEPA filter. These are designed to remove airborne particles. Keep windows shut and use an air conditioner if needed.
  • Close your windows when driving. Shut the vents and either recirculate the interior air or use your air conditioner.
  • Vacuum and dust frequently. "Pet-friendly" vacuum cleaners often do the best job of sucking up pollen and other allergens, such as dander.
  • Shower before bedtime. The body and hair can collect surprising amounts of pollen whenever outdoors. Also, be sure to wash any clothes you've been wearing as soon as possible.
  • Avoid drying clothes outdoors. Pollen can easily settle in the fibers and trigger symptoms when the clothes are put on later.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why are my allergies so bad in the spring?

    Spring allergies can commonly be traced to tree and grass pollens. Tree pollen allergies tend to hit early in the season. Tree pollen is most plentiful when trees are first starting to bud. You can tell tree pollen counts are high when you see a film of fine yellow-green dust covering surfaces. 

    Grass pollen allergies are more prominent in late spring and throughout the summer. Grass pollen occurs when grass grows taller, and the tips resemble a feathery flower, also called “gone to seed.” 

  • If I have a grass allergy, am I allergic to all grasses?

    No, most people with a grass allergy only react to certain varieties of grass pollens. Grass allergies are often caused by Bermuda grass, bluegrass, orchard grass, red top grass, sweet vernal grass, or Timothy grass. You may be allergic to one or more types of grass. 

  • Can someone still mow the lawn if they have a grass allergy?

    It depends on the extent of the allergy and the specific type of grass. If you are allergic to grass, you can take preventive precautions when mowing the lawn. For example, wearing an N95 mask or other face-covering and goggles while mowing the lawn can provide some protection. In addition, taking an antihistamine before mowing the lawn can help to prevent a severe reaction.

    If you suspect a grass allergy, talk to your doctor about allergy testing. You may be allergic to some types of grass pollen, but not others.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Allergy facts.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Allergies and hay fever.

  3. Zahran HS, Bailey CM, Damon SA, Garbe PL, Breysse PN. Vital signs: Asthma in children - United States, 2001-2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018;67(5):149–55. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6705e1

  4. Ludwig J. Plants, trees that cause spring allergies, pollen. AARP.

  5. Jung S, Estrella N, Pfaffl MW, Hartmann S, Handelshauser E, Menzel A. Grass pollen production and group V allergen content of agriculturally relevant species and cultivars. PLoS ONE. 2018;13(3):e0193958. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0193958

  6. Braido F, Lagasio C, Piroddi I, Baiardini I, Canonica G. New treatment options in allergic rhinitis: patient considerations and the role of ciclesonide. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2008;4(2):353–61. doi:10.2147/tcrm.s1266

  7. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Seasonal allergies.

Additional Reading

By Pat Bass, MD
Dr. Bass is a board-certified internist, pediatrician, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians.