Many people assume allergy season starts in the spring. That’s when the frost recedes and flowers start to bloom. But take a closer look at our allergy calendar, online or in our app, and you’ll see that’s not the case.
When are the allergy seasons?
The four allergy seasons span the whole year. Pollen dominates three of them and can be a factor in the fourth. The margins where one season tips into another get a bit blurry.
Pollen production may start earlier after mild winter temperatures. Meanwhile a wet spring can cause rapid plant growth and an increase in mould. Some trees may start to pollinate in the coldest months. But the first hard frost will kill off many other plants that contribute to seasonal allergies. Outdoor moulds commonly cause summer and autumn allergies but most become inactive during winter.
But that’s not the end of the story. Winter may be the quietest of the allergy seasons for outdoor allergens but it’s when allergies move indoors. Moulds thrive in a damp bathroom, kitchen or basement. Central heating can blow dust mite allergens around your home. Pet dander is another indoor trigger so spending quality time with Fido on the sofa could get you sneezing.
What are the main triggers in the different allergy seasons?
Airborne allergens that trigger seasonal allergic rhinitis are what you need to watch out for. A plant releases pollen into the air to fertilise other plants of the same species. On windy days the fine dust can travel for hundreds of miles from its origin. Mould spores can be even tinier than pollen grains and they too travel in the wind.
The first clue that you’ve breathed in the particles is when you get hay fever symptoms like sneezing or a runny nose.
Allergy seasons checklist
- Spring: Most tree pollens start in spring but some species pollinate from the previous season. Grass pollen starts at the beginning of May. Weed pollen starts in May.
- Summer: Tree pollen has reduced and ended by July. Grass pollen is at its peak until the end of July before reducing - but still lasting - the remainder of summer. Weed pollens come and go throughout the season.
- Autumn: Grass pollen is finished by early September. Weed pollens are also reducing come September, finishing by the end of the month.
- Winter: Some tree pollens like alder and hazel start as early as January.
Other symptoms tied to the allergy seasons
Mild allergic reactions in your mouth, lips or throat when you eat could be seasonal allergies. Cross-reactions happen when your immune system thinks proteins in certain fruit and veg are the same as your allergens. It’s called oral allergy syndrome.
For example, if your mouth tingles in spring after eating an apple it could be a birch pollen allergy playing up. Or if you get a local reaction after eating mushrooms, spinach or yeast in autumn it could be a mould allergy. It may bother you more when you are already experiencing symptoms of seasonal allergies.
Allergy seasons and the weather
Day-to-day weather factors can affect your allergies. Long spells without rain may make trees release more pollen. And the fine dust can travel further through the air on dry days.
Light rain can be helpful as moisture weighs the grains down. But heavy rain can break up and scatter clumps of pollen. So allergy symptoms may be worse during a storm, for example. Rain and humidity can also make mould counts go up. So does fog and dew.
Weather shifts that affect the allergy seasons can also affect your allergies. For example, a warm wet winter may lead to more severe spring allergies if the plants bloom early.
Are allergy seasons getting longer?
Climate change is pushing temperatures up and this is already affecting the allergy seasons. Records suggest spring has lengthened by 10 to 14 days over the past two decades. And this may affect the timing of tree pollination. Birch in several places in Europe seems to be flowering earlier. Grass pollen is also becoming more plentiful and allergenic due to air pollution in cities.
Extreme weather events can also influence allergy seasons and they’re likely to become more common. Mould spores can multiply indoors after flooding.
Preparing for the allergy seasons
The key is to get to know your allergy seasons. Then you can take steps to avoid your trigger. Our app lets you check daily pollen levels, the weather and air quality for your area. There’s also a pollen forecast on our website.
Practical steps include keeping windows and doors closed when pollen or mould counts are up. Wear a sun-hat, wrap-around sunglasses and face mask when you go out. Change your clothes when you get home, dry them indoors and wash your hair before bed.
If you use symptom-relieving medication, take it before you leave home or even before your allergy season starts. We’ll look at this next.
Allergy seasons: Some treatment options
Antihistamines and corticosteroids can help ease symptoms like nasal congestion, sneezing or watery eyes. Decongestants can also unblock a stuffy nose but shouldn’t be used for more than a few days.
These allergy medications are available in different forms so ask your pharmacist or GP for advice. They may suggest starting with antihistamine or a corticosteroid nasal spray from two weeks before you’re likely to get hay fever. This can help keep symptoms in check.
Can you change how allergy seasons affect you?
There’s no cure for allergy. But you might be able to influence your allergy calendar. Allergen immunotherapy is a way of retraining your immune system. It’s a long-term treatment and involves repeated small doses of your trigger. Treatment takes several years and the aim is that allergy seasons have less effect on your life.