Woman blowing nose

Spring in PA represents an awakening after a long, cold winter. The flowers, the butterflies, the fresh air. It’s a beautiful time of year … unless you suffer from allergies. Suddenly, those signs of spring become signs of impending sneezing, coughing, sore throats and puffy, watery, red eyes. Common spring allergies for PA can wreck havoc in your body. Knowing which allergies to look out for and how to deal with those allergies can help you find the relief you need to look forward to spring.

What Allergies Are the Worst in Spring in PA?

The most common spring allergies relate to the changes that happen during the season. During winter, there aren’t many plants growing, so you don’t have to deal with pollen. After winter passes, plants begin to grow again, which increases the amount of pollen in the air. Common seasonal allergies, also called hay fever, typically relate to those increased pollen counts.

Trees and flowers are the most common culprits, along with weeds and grasses. The worst offenders are the plants and flowers that produce powdery pollen. Unlike some flowers, such as roses, that produce pollen that is primarily transported by insects, flowers with powdery pollen sends the allergen out into the environment with every breeze that passes. Grass pollen is most often a problem in late spring heading into summer.

Those gentle spring breezes that feel so nice are also responsible for spreading the pollen around your neighborhood. Because it is carried by wind, pollen is basically everywhere during spring, which makes it difficult to escape. In fact, wind can carry pollen for miles, so you may have allergic reactions to plants that are nowhere near you at the time.

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Which Plants Cause Allergies in PA?

Certain plants specific to central PA are often responsible for the spring allergy symptoms you feel. Some of those plants include:

  • Black ash
  • Black walnut
  • Black willow
  • Border privet
  • European privet
  • Red mulberry
  • White mulberry
  • White walnut
  • Ragweed
  • Wormwood
  • Black mustard
  • Smooth amaranth
  • White sagebrush
  • Bermuda grass
  • Black bent
  • Corn
  • Nodding fescue
  • Perennial rye grass
  • Red fescue
  • Winter bent

Mold allergies also peak during the spring months. This is because mold spores, or the seeds that keep the mold spreading, are released during spring. Those spores enter the air, along with all of the pollen, and potentially cause even more allergy symptoms. The mold spores are present throughout the spring months, and they’re both indoors and outdoors, so it’s difficult to escape them. While mold can cause allergies any time of year, it tends to be worse during the spring months.

What Are the Most Common Allergies for PA During Other Seasons?

While spring is the primary season for allergies in PA, you may experience the sniffles associated with allergies year-round. Pollen can be an issue throughout the warmer months in PA, but other allergens may be more prominent at other times.

Here are some potential allergens by season:

  • Summer: Fungus spores and seeds
  • Autumn: Ragweed pollen
  • Winter: Dust allergens

Summer Allergies: Allergens Rise at Night

The same tree, weed, grass and flower allergies that affect you in the spring can still cause issues in the summer. Expect the highest counts of those allergens in the evening. However, many people in central PA also face allergies due to fungus spores and seeds. Those allergens thrive in grass, grains, fallen leaves, compost piles and similar areas.

Fall Allergies: Ragweed Pollen Rages

As summer shifts into autumn, the cause of allergies also shifts to ragweed pollen. Expect to start noticing the ragweed allergic reactions sometime in September for the central PA area. Ragweed pollen counts tend to grow on cool nights and warm, windy days, with morning typically seeing the highest counts. When possible, avoid time outdoors during those periods.

Winter Allergies: Stay on Alert Inside

The trees in central PA look quite bare during the winter months, so you don’t have to worry about pollen causing allergies. That doesn’t mean you’re in the clear, though. Indoor environments harbor dust, which is a common allergen. You may also unknowingly introduce mold spores into your home when you set up your Christmas tree. Shaking the tree before bringing it in your home can help reduce those allergens.

What’s Causing My Allergies?

Have you ever wondered, “What causes my spring allergies?” Sure, you may know your allergies happen due to pollen in the air or mold spores in your home, but why do you erupt in a fit of sneezes when other people exposed to the same allergens are fine?

It all comes down to how your body reacts when an allergen enters. Your immune system is invaluable in protecting your body from threats, but sometimes its reaction is a little too much to handle. In the spring, your immune system sees pollen as an invader when it enters the body. The symptoms you feel occur when the immune system produces Immunoglobulin E, which are antibodies that cause certain cells to release chemicals. Those chemicals cause the allergic reaction in your body.

The severity of your spring allergy symptoms depends on a number of factors. The amount of pollen in the air is often a factor. On days when the pollen count is very high, you may notice more severe symptoms. Your body’s sensitivity level is also a factor. If you’re recently had contact with other allergens, that contact could affect how your body reacts to pollen in the air.

Allergic rhinitis is the specific condition you experience if you have seasonal allergies. You may also hear it called hay fever. This is the condition that causes your runny nose, sneezing, congestion, itchiness and watery eyes.

The Dangers of Allergic Asthma and Anaphylaxis

Some people also experience allergic asthma. The asthma condition is triggered by the allergens, which cause a restriction in airflow. The histamines released during the allergic reaction cause inflammation and tightness in the bronchial tube wall muscle lining, making it more difficult to breathe. Mucus in the airways further inhibits your ability to breathe well.

Anaphylaxis is the most severe type of allergic reaction. This reaction can cause issues throughout the body, not just the lungs. The symptoms may include the inability to breathe, loss of consciousness, shock and other issues. The most common causes of anaphylaxis are foods, drugs, latex and bee or wasp stings.

How Can I Manage My PA-Specific Allergies?

It’s amazing how something so tiny can cause so much discomfort in the body. If you could live in a bubble for all of spring, you might be able to avoid the pollen. While there’s no realistic way to avoid pollen completely, you can minimize the allergic reaction to make your life a little more comfortable.

Try these methods of managing your allergies.

Keep Windows Closed to Keep Out Allergens

Opening up windows to let in the fresh spring air is delightful, but you’re also inviting in all of the pollen that can cause your allergic reaction. Instead, keep the windows and doors in your home closed as much as possible. This minimizes your contact with pollen, at least while you’re inside your home. The same idea applies when you’re diving. Refrain from driving down the road with you
r window down and the breeze blowing in to keep your exposure to allergens to a minimum.

Wait for Damp Days to Go Outside

The amount of pollen in the air varies from day to day. When possible, avoid spending time outdoors on days when the pollen counts are high. Your best bet is to spend time outside on damp, cloudy days without a breeze. Run and frolic outdoors on those days with a lower risk of breathing in lots of pollen.

Filter Your Air Through Your HVAC or Purifier

Air filters can help remove even tiny particles, such as pollen and mold spores. Using air filters minimizes your exposure to those allergens while you’re inside your home. HVAC units often have the option of special allergy filters that help remove the particles. You can also use a freestanding air purifier. Look for a model with a HEPA filter to eliminate even tiny particles. Change or clean the filter frequently to keep the machine running at peak performance.

Keep Humidity Levels As Low As Possible

In winter, dust allergens can cause allergic reactions in central PA homes. One way to combat that is by keeping the humidity level in your home below 55 percent. You can use humidifiers and dehumidifiers to reach ideal humidity levels in the home.

Use Covers for Bedding to Protect Against Dust Mites

In winter when dust allergies are at a peak, use covers on your pillows and mattresses that resist dust mites.

Wash up Immediately After Coming Indoors

You can’t stay in your home forever, so after a day of venturing outdoors, come home and take a shower to wash off any loose allergens. Change your clothes after spending time outdoors, in case any loose pollen stays on them. Toss your clothing in the laundry for further decontamination.

Clean and Vacuum Regularly to Keep Away Dust

Cleaning up your house is another way to get rid of allergens and potentially minimize their effects on your body. This is particularly helpful in winter, when dust allergens are a prime cause of allergies. Clean off all surfaces and vacuum your floor regularly to keep the dust under control.

Hire Someone to Handle Your Yard Work

Mowing, weeding, raking and other outdoor maintenance tasks put you in contact with a huge number of allergens. When you mow or rake, all of those allergens get stirred up, which exposes you to even higher numbers. Let someone else in the family handle those tasks, or hire a lawn care service to maintain your exterior.

Flush the Nasal Passages to Clear Your Nose

Some people use nasal irrigation to clean out the nasal passages. Squeeze bottles or neti pots work to flush the nose with distilled or sterile water. A small amount of salt and baking soda in the water can help get rid of mucus and other junk in the nose.

Take Allergy Medication

Even when you take precautions, you may still experience allergic reactions. When this happens, antihistamines or medications designed for allergies may minimize the symptoms. Taking an antihistamine on days when pollen counts are particularly high may help minimize the effects when you head outdoors.

How Can an Urgent Care Trip Help My Spring Allergies?

When you think of urgent care, you may think of injuries or acute illnesses rather than an ongoing problem, such as seasonal allergies. However, we can help you in a few different ways if you find yourself suffering from seasonal allergies or you think you might have allergies.

If you feel the familiar itchy, watery eyes, sniffles and other allergy symptoms coming on, a trip to urgent care can help you get a diagnosis. Perhaps you’re experiencing allergy symptoms for the first time, or you’ve never had a diagnosis for your allergies. Visit urgent care to determine if those symptoms are related to allergies or if you have an illness causing your symptoms. Urgent care can also help you determine if you’re experiencing allergic rhinitis or allergic asthma. Knowing what’s causing your issues is the first step in dealing with the symptoms.

Urgent care can also help you with an immediate treatment plan when your allergy symptoms are severe. While you can buy several different allergy treatment medications over the counter, it’s important to talk to a health care provider first.

Finding the Right Allergy Medication

A physician can help you select the best medication for your situation and educate you on using the medication properly. For those times when you need immediate relief but can’t get to your primary care doctor, urgent care can walk you through some options and help you choose the best allergy medication for your situation.

The following medication options may be recommended, depending on the situation:

  • Antihistamines: The reaction to the allergen causes the body to release histamines, which causes all of those annoying symptoms. Medications called antihistamines work to lower those histamine levels in the body. Lower histamine levels mean fewer symptoms.
  • Decongestants: If your allergies cause congestion or swelling in your nasal passages, decongestants may help. These medications shrink the blood vessels in the area to minimize the swelling.
  • Nasal spray decongestants: Some people prefer to use a nasal spray version of decongestants to clear the nasal passages quickly.
  • Steroid nasal sprays: Another nasal spray option helps to minimize the inflammation caused by allergies.
  • Eye drops: For red, itchy, watery eyes, medicated drops that go into the eyes can help relieve the symptoms.
  • Prescription medications: A doctor can prescribe allergy medications that are stronger than the over-the-counter options. If you don’t get relief from the products in the store, ask about the possibility of an allergy medication prescription.
  • Immunotherapy: In some cases, your doctor may recommend immunotherapy to help your allergies. This is a longer-term option for relieving allergy symptoms. Given via shots or under-the-tongue tablets, immunotherapy gradually introduces the allergen into the body at increasing levels, so the body learns to tolerate it.

If you experience severe difficulty in breathing, head straight to the emergency room for immediate treatment. Urgent care is best suited to your non-severe, non-life-threatening allergies.

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.