Summertime Allergy-Induced Asthma

Dealing with Seasonal Allergic Asthma

Summer Field - Blow Nose
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People who have summertime allergy-induced asthma often feel miserable at the time of year when they want to be outside the most. As the days of summer arrive, school lets out, and much-anticipated vacations finally begin, you're dealing with sneezing, wheezing and coughing once again. Summer allergies can put a real crimp in your style.

Some allergy-induced asthma produces problems year round because it's triggered by substances found in the everyday living environment.

Other people only deal with the symptoms at certain times of the year, if they have the outdoor type of allergies, meaning that triggers are commonly found outdoors, rather than indoors. And still others have allergy/asthma symptoms year round but find they get much worse in the summertime when summer triggers are most present.

Common symptoms of summer allergies and asthma can include:

Kids with asthma and allergies may also have what are known as the allergic salute, where they rub their noses upward because of itching and have 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.

Common Summer Allergens or Triggers

The summer season can occur at different times in different parts of the United States and other countries, depending on climate and location. When grasses start to green and grow, though, chances are that summer allergy-induced asthma is about to begin. The most common summer allergens, or triggers, are grass pollens.

Pollen are 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. The size of a typical pollen spore is smaller in diameter than a human hair.

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

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

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

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
  • Cockleweeds
  • Pigweed
  • Russian thistle
  • Sagebrush
  • Tumbleweed

Influencing Factors

The type of pollen that triggers allergies is a lightweight airborne powder.

So it is easily spread far and wide on windy days. When it is rainy, though, the rain washes the pollen spores away and pollen counts tend to be lower, which brings relief from symptoms.

How Summer Allergies and Asthma Are Diagnosed

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 doctor. Your doctor may decide to refer you to an allergist, who can do formal allergy testing to find out exactly what you may be allergic to. Timothy grass pollen is one type of pollen that may trigger summer allergies

Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Dealing with Seasonal Allergic Asthma 

The good news is, there is no reason why you just have to "grin and bear it" with summer allergies and asthma symptoms. There are easy steps you can take to keep symptoms at bay. A combination of preventive actions and medication are usually all it will take.

Preventive Actions You Can Take

Here are some of the prevention actions you should work on:

  • 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, as counts are usually highest early morning to midday.
  • When you're indoors or in the car, keep the windows closed and 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. Dust collects on flat surfaces and pollen often collect in dust, so cleaning will keep the levels down indoors too. It may help to wear a mask while you clean.
  • Don't hang drying clothes outdoors. Clothes hanging outside to dry can collect pollen. Use a clothes dryer when pollen levels are high.
  • 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.

Medications You Can Take

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 it twice a week or more, though, it's time to call the doctor for a more effective preventive medicine.) Medications used to treat summer allergy symptoms can include:

  • 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 (generic name diphenhydramine) and Chlortrimeton (generic name chlorpheniramine). These are cheap, available over the counter and generally effective, but can make you feel drowsy. The newer antihistamines such as Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra are effective and non-sedating, but may be more expensive. Claritin and Zyrtec are both available over the counter, but Allegra is not. 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, but they cannot be safely used throughout the summer allergy season. And, if used too much, they can actually make nasal symptoms worse.
  • Nasal steroid sprays or nasal cromolyn sodium. These prescription nasal sprays, such as Flonase, are some of the most effective medicines, and because they act only where needed, are also some of the safest.
  • Eye drops. There is a wide variety of eye drops that can be used for eye allergies. Use caution in using drops like Visine Allergy, though, as they can make symptoms worse if overused. Natural tears type eye drops are the gentlest and may work for mild symptoms. More severe symptoms may respond well to an antihistamine eye drop like Alaway or Zaditor, both of which are available over the counter. There are also prescription eye drops available that may be helpful.

For those who want a more "natural" approach, a saline nasal rinse / irrigation is both gentle and effective. The idea is to wash out pollens, other allergens, and mucus from the nasal passages by flushing them with salt water (saline). These preparations are available over the counter in most drug stores.

In Summary

If your allergies and asthma get worse in the summertime, don't feel as though you just have to suffer. Take action! You can feel better and continue to live a full and active life, even in the face of summer allergies. Talk to your doctor before summer begins, to make sure you have a plan in place in time. And, if you plan to take an oral antihistamine, it can take up to 2 weeks for it to reach full effectiveness, so be sure to start taking it before you expect summer allergies to start.

If you have asthma year round, but your nasal allergies and eye allergies are more seasonal in nature, it's important to stay on top of the allergy symptoms, so that you can nip them in the bud quickly. When nasal allergies spiral out of control, asthma often follows, even if it has been stable before.


American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. "Allergic Rhinitis." . AAAAI. 13 Apr 2008

AAAAI, "Tips to remember: outdoor allergens." American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. 01 January 2006. AAAAI. 18 Oct 2007

"Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma." NHLBI Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Asthma. 28 Aug 2007. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. 18 Dec. 2007 <>

"Tips to remember: outdoor allergens." 2007. American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. 31 May 2008

Ragweed pollen triggers late-summer allergy & asthma symptoms Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology It's Time to Take Control

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