Summer Allergy-Induced Asthma

Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatments

Allergy-induced asthma that occurs in the summer is usually due to grass pollen, though weeds can be problematic, too. Grasses tend to be at their height of activity in the summer months, or more accurately, months of summer weather (which differ depending on where you live).

The immune system sees the pollen as a harmful invader and launches a response that results in sneezing, wheezing, and coughing. This leaves you feeling miserable at a time when you probably want to be outside the most.

This article discusses the symptoms and causes of summertime allergies and asthma. It also covers how you can treat and prevent them.

Woman using inhaler in the summer
IAN HOOTON / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

Symptoms of Summer Allergies and Asthma

Common symptoms of summer allergies include:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal stuffiness
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy, watery, burning eyes
  • Itchy mouth or throat
  • Coughing

Symptoms of asthma include:

Kids with asthma and allergies may have what is known as the "allergic salute." That's where the nose tilts upward because of constant rubbing due to itching. They may also sport allergic shiners, which are dark circles under the eyes caused by nasal congestion.

These are all just the typical symptoms of allergy-induced asthma. Nothing is different in the summer, except that if you are allergic to summer allergens, your symptoms may increase.

In those for whom grass or weeds are a trigger, asthma that may be "quiet" at other times of year and then flare as things start to green and grow. Though if you have other triggers, your summer allergy-induced asthma may turn into fall, winter, or spring allergy-induced asthma as the seasons roll on and you are exposed to other substances your immune system doesn't like.

Grass Pollen: The Most Common Summer Allergen

The most common summer allergens, or triggers, are grass pollens.

Pollen is tiny, egg-shaped male cells found in flowering plants. You may know pollen better as the tiny, powdery granules that plants use during the fertilization process (and that you find collecting on your car, windowsills, and what seems like everywhere else).

Common Grass Allergens

Many different kinds of grasses can produce pollen that triggers allergies and asthma symptoms. The most common grass allergens include:

  • Bermuda grass
  • Kentucky bluegrass
  • Bahia grass
  • Fescue grass
  • Johnson grass
  • Timothy grass

These grasses may or may not all exist in your area. If any of them do and you are sensitive to their pollens, you will have summer allergy/asthma symptoms.

Common Weed Allergens

Toward the end of summer, around mid-August in most of the United States, weed pollens begin to become a problem. They tend to be at their highest levels during late summer and fall.

Some common weed allergens are:

  • Ragweed
  • Cocklebur
  • Pigweed
  • Russian thistle
  • Sagebrush
  • Tumbleweed

The type of pollen that triggers allergies is lightweight and airborne, so it's easily spread far and wide on windy days. When it's rainy, though, the rain washes the pollen spores away and pollen counts tend to be lower, which brings relief from symptoms.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you notice that your asthma and allergy symptoms crop up—or worsen—during the days of summer, there's a good chance that you have summer allergy-induced asthma. To find out for sure, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider.

Your practitioner may decide to refer you to an allergist. They can do formal allergy testing to find out exactly what you may be allergic to.

The good news is there's no reason why you should have to put up with summer allergies and asthma symptoms. There are easy steps you can take to keep your symptoms at bay. A combination of preventive actions and medication is usually all it takes.

Treatments for Summer Allergies and Asthma

There are a number of medications that can be used to treat summer allergies and asthma.

For asthma, you should be taking your inhaled steroid every day as prescribed to prevent symptoms and using your rescue inhaler if symptoms do arise.

If you need to use your rescue inhaler twice a week or more, consult with your healthcare provider. This is a sign that your asthma is not well managed and that you may need a change in your treatment plan.

Your allergist may recommend having allergy shots (allergy immunotherapy) if you have symptoms several months of the year. They may suggest a medication used to treat allergy symptoms. Those can include the following.

Oral Antihistamines

Antihistamines are the most tried and true medications for treating most allergy symptoms. They work directly on the underlying allergic response.

They can include first-generation medicines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Chlortrimeton (chlorpheniramine). These are relatively inexpensive, available over the counter, and generally effective, but can make you feel drowsy.

Newer antihistamines such as Claritin (loratadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), and Allegra (fexofenadine) are effective and non-sedating, but usually more expensive. They are also available over the counter.

Some antihistamines are also combined with a decongestant to combat nasal congestion.

Nasal Decongestant Sprays

These can work well for relieving nasal symptoms on a short-term basis. However, they cannot be safely used throughout the summer (or any) allergy season.

Using one of these sprays for more than three days can result in your body becoming dependent on them. And if used too much, they can actually make nasal symptoms worse.

Nasal Steroid Sprays

Over-the-counter nasal steroid sprays, such as Flonase (fluticasone), reduce nasal symptoms, including inflammation, congestion, sneezing, and runny nose.

These sprays, available by prescription and over the counter, are typically safe to use under a health provider's care. However, they can cause side effects, including nose bleeds.

Check with your doctor to make sure it's the right treatment for you.

Eyedrops

There is a wide variety of eye drops that can be used for eye allergies. Use caution in using drops like Visine Allergy, though. They can make symptoms worse if they're overused.

Natural tears-type eyedrops are the gentlest and may work for mild symptoms. More severe symptoms may respond well to an antihistamine eye drop like Alaway (ketotifen fumarate) or Zaditor (ketotifen), both of which are available over the counter.

There are also prescription eyedrops available that may be helpful.

Saline Rinse

For those who want a non-drug approach, a saline nasal rinse or irrigation device can be both gentle and effective.

Both involve flushing the nasal passages with salt water (saline) to wash out pollens, other allergens, and mucus. These options are available over the counter in most drugstores.

If you use a nasal irrigation device, rather than a bottled saline rinse, don't use tap water. It may have bacteria or protozoa that could cause serious infections when put directly in your nose. Instead, use distilled or sterile water. If you can't find any at the store or prefer to make your own, you can boil water for about five minutes and then cool to lukewarm.

Preventing Summer Allergy and Asthma Symptoms

Here are some ways to help prevent your allergy and asthma symptoms from flaring:

  • Pay attention to pollen counts for your area. You can watch your local weather forecasts to get daily pollen counts or check look them up on the National Allergy Bureau's website.
  • When pollen counts are high, stay indoors as much as you can. Pollen counts tend to be highest on warm, windy days and lowest on rainy days. If you must go outdoors during times when pollen counts are high, try to do it later in the day. Counts are usually highest from early morning to midday.
  • When you're indoors or in the car, keep the windows closed and the air conditioning on. Even if it's not hot out, turning on the A/C will keep pollen from blowing into your home or car through the window, especially if the air conditioning unit is equipped with a HEPA filter.
  • Vacuum and dust your house's flat surfaces frequently. Pollen often collects in dust. Cleaning will keep the levels down indoors. It may help to wear a mask while you clean.
  • Don't hang drying clothes outdoors. Pollen can collect on clothes that are hanging outside to dry. Use a clothes dryer when pollen levels are high instead.
  • If you must go outside during high pollen counts, wash the pollen off when you get back inside. Wash your hair to get rid of pollen and change your clothes. This might seem like overkill, but it can make a big difference in your symptoms.

Summary

Allergies and asthma may get worse for some people in the summertime. Usually, it happens as the grass begins to grow and get green again. Grass pollens and weed pollens can often trigger allergies and asthma during this season.

Your healthcare provider can help you determine what's causing your allergies and asthma during the summer months. They can also give you recommendations for your allergy and asthma medication.

To prevent allergy and asthma symptoms, check pollen counts regularly. If the counts are high, stay inside when possible.

A Word From Verywell

Talk to your healthcare provider before summer begins to make sure you have a plan in place in time. If you plan to take an oral antihistamine, remember it can take up to two weeks for it to reach full effectiveness. Be sure to start taking the medication before you expect summer allergies to start, rather than in response to symptoms.

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10 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.
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