How to identify a grass allergy

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Many people across the world have a grass allergy. Despite the name, a person has an allergic response not to the grass itself but to the pollen that it releases.

People may also refer to a grass allergy as seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever. Hay fever occurs when a person’s immune system mistakes a normally harmless airborne substance, such as grass pollen, as a threat. In response, the body releases chemicals, including histamine, which triggers allergy symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2016, 19.2 million adults and 5.2 million children in the United States had hay fever.

This article covers the types of grass allergy, as well as their symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

Types of grass allergy

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) state that only a few types of grass can cause allergy symptoms. They also note that depending on where a person lives, various grasses may be responsible for the symptoms, which they can trigger at different times of the year.

Pollination differs between the northern and southern regions of the U.S. For example, late spring and early summer represent the pollen season for northern regions. On the other hand, in southern regions, grasses may pollinate throughout the year.

The AAFA state that the types of grass that most commonly cause allergies are:

  • Bermuda grass
  • johnsongrass
  • Kentucky grass
  • orchard grass
  • ryegrass
  • sweet vernal grass
  • timothy grass

Symptoms

The symptoms of a grass allergy can include:

  • sneezing
  • stuffiness
  • a runny nose
  • red and watery eyes
  • swelling around the eyes
  • itchiness in the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes, or, sometimes, ears
  • worsening asthma symptoms

Causes

Grass pollen allergies are one of the most common allergies in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNS). The AAO-HNS recommend avoiding the allergens as much as possible.

Grass allergy symptoms are often less obvious on rainy, cloudy days or when there is little to no wind. Conversely, hot, dry, and windy weather spreads pollen around more, which can increase a person’s allergy symptoms.

Treatment

Many allergens that trigger the symptoms of grass allergies are airborne, so a person cannot always avoid them.

A person with grass allergies can pay attention to the pollen count and prepare for days when this is high, and their symptoms will be more severe.

There is no way to prevent grass allergies fully, but a person can minimize the symptoms in the following ways:

Medications

A person with a grass allergy can choose from a variety of medications that are available over the counter (OTC) or via prescription.

These medicines include:

  • Antihistamines: These help stop sneezing, itchy eyes, and other symptoms.
  • Decongestant nasal sprays: These sprays can reduce congestion, but routine use may actually increase problems.
  • Corticosteroid nasal sprays: People can use these to reduce nasal inflammation.
  • Saline nasal sprays: These tackle symptoms such as dry nasal passages and thick nasal mucus.

Home remedies

A person may find that certain lifestyle practices help them manage their grass allergy. They can try: limiting outdoor activities on days when the pollen count is high closing windows when the pollen count is high using an air conditioning unit with a specialist filter to prevent pollen from entering the home avoiding drying the laundry outside when the pollen count is high taking antihistamines before the exposure to triggers so that the body blocks the effects of histamine release at an earlier stage keeping lawns short to decrease the chance of the grass releasing
pollen wearing sunglasses and a hat to keep pollen out of the eyes and hair, if going outside is unavoidable.

When to see a doctor

If a person is unsure whether they have a grass allergy, a doctor can conduct tests to find out.

Doctors use two tests to diagnose a grass pollen allergy:

  • Skin prick test: The skin prick test involves pricking the skin and placing a liquid form of an allergen on the spot. If a person is allergic to that particular substance, an itchy, red bump will appear within 15 minutes.
  • Specific IgE blood test: If a blood test is necessary, the doctor will send a sample to a lab, where technicians will look for antibodies that the body has created as a reaction to the suspected allergen.

A person should seek medical attention if OTC medications do not provide adequate relief, as a doctor can design a plan with an individual to tackle the symptoms.

Immunotherapy is a long-term treatment that can help prevent or reduce the severity of allergic reactions. For grass allergies, there are two forms:

  • Allergy shots: A person will get injections of allergens in an increasing dosage over time. These take place in a medical setting.
  • Allergy tablets: A person will place a tablet containing the allergen under the tongue and then swallow it. They can do this at home.

A doctor will advise on how suitable immunotherapy is for an individual.

If a person has allergies, it is crucial to seek medical attention if any of the following symptoms occur, as they can be a sign of anaphylaxis, which is a medical emergency:

  • swelling of the throat and mouth
  • difficulty breathing
  • lightheadedness
  • confusion
  • blue skin or lips
  • collapsing and losing consciousness
  • Call 911 if a person experiences any of these symptoms.

Summary

Grass allergies are not deadly, but they can make a person very uncomfortable. Many people with a grass allergy may also have asthma, and their allergy can trigger an asthma attack, which can be serious.

Usually, grass allergies are very manageable, with numerous treatment options available. A grass allergy should not affect a person’s quality of life.

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