What is grass allergy?
Grasses are one of the most common allergy triggers. The stuff grows all over the place, not just in the countryside where you expect to find it. Can you imagine a suburban house without a patch of lawn or a city without grass to break up the brick and concrete? In 2015 lawn covered up to 75% of urban green open spaces.
That sounds lovely – unless you’re one of the many Britons for whom fresh cut grass means sneezy, wheezy, snotty summers. So how do you manage grass allergy without reaching for a handkerchief all the time? Let’s find out.
What causes grass allergy?
It’s the pollen, a fine powder male plants release as part of the reproductive process. This works very well for the grass but it isn’t very helpful for people with grass allergies.
Like many trees and weeds, grasses rely on the wind to spread the pollen. Finding a female of the same species can be hit and miss. So the plants send billions of tiny grass pollen grains into the air each year to make sure. And they can travel far from the original source.
Grass allergy: the inside story
You can see how taking a breath of fresh air at the right time of year is likely to bring you into contact with flying grass pollen. That can cause allergy symptoms if you have an overactive immune system.
Allergy is when your immune system thinks a harmless substance like grass pollen is dangerous. It tries to get rid of the intruder, just as it would a virus or parasite. The chain reaction of antibodies, cells and chemicals inside your body causes the allergy symptoms you may know all too well.
Which species cause grass allergy?
There are hundreds of different grass species but only a few of them are highly allergenic. That is, they’re a major cause of grass pollen allergy.
These include: cocksfoot, common meadow grass, false oatgrass, meadow foxtail, perennial ryegrass, soft brome, sweet vernal grass, tall fescue, timothy grass, wild oat and Yorkshire fog. Different types of grasses have different growing environments. You may have a predominance of one or more species in your local area.
Grass pollen allergy season
Where you live matters a lot when it comes to grass allergies.
Further north grasses tend to pollinate from late spring or early summer. But a mild winter can encourage an early start. Meanwhile in the south grasses may flower and cause pollen allergy symptoms all year round.
Being allergic to grass of more than one type is not uncommon. Many are closely related so the allergenic proteins in these grass pollens pollen are similar. If they flower at slightly different times that can extend the length of your personal grass pollen allergy season.
Does weather affect grass allergy too?
Yes it does. Grass pollen levels are generally higher when it’s dry. The lack of moisture in the air allows the pollen grains to travel further away. Warm windy days can be particularly sneezy.
On the other hand, rain tends to be helpful if you have hay fever (and an umbrella). It washes grass pollen away. The exception is sudden storms when pollen levels are high. The raindrops break up clumps of pollen on the ground and scatter the grains. For anyone with grass pollen allergy, this can cause immediate symptoms.
Grass allergy symptoms
People who are allergic to grass often have allergic rhinitis or hay fever. Common symptoms include:
- Stuffy nose (nasal congestion)
- Runny nose
- Itchy nose
- Post-nasal drip (the feeling of mucus moving down the back of your throat)
When you have a grass pollen allergy you may also experience these symptoms: itchy, red or watery eyes, cough, tight chest or wheezing and sinus inflammation/pain.
Direct contact with grass may also give you an itchy red skin reaction. It’s a less common grass allergy symptom known as grass rash.
Foods to look out for if you have grass allergy
Being allergic to grass can give you cross-reactions with certain types of food. This is called pollen food syndrome or oral allergy syndrome. The grass allergies most likely to cause it are timothy grass and cocksfoot.
Cross-reactivity happens because the allergenic proteins in the food and the pollen are similar. If you have grass allergy, you may get a mild reaction in the face, mouth, throat or lips when eating these fresh fruits or vegetables: peach, watermelon, orange, tomato or white potato. Heat can help break down the proteins that cause pollen food syndrome. So you may get mild if any symptoms when your problem food is baked, microwaved or from a can. Or pasteurised if it’s juice.
Getting a grass allergy diagnosis
Do the symptoms seem familiar? And the timing? If so, reach out to your doctor. They’ll ask about your medical history and whether anyone in your family has allergies too. They may then suggest allergy testing – commonly a skin prick test or blood test – to help them make the diagnosis.
The next step will be to discuss different ways for you to take control of your grass allergy. This includes prevention and treatment options.
4 ways to manage grass allergy symptoms
Allergies can have a big impact on your daily life. While it’s difficult to avoid grass pollen, there are ways to stay in control during your allergy season. Let’s take a look at the things you can do to reduce grass allergy symptoms.
Monitor pollen levels every day
The easiest way for you to limit your exposure to pollen is to stay indoors when pollen levels are at their highest. This would be challenging if it wasn’t for technology. With the klarify app you can keep track of daily pollen levels, air quality and the weather forecast in your region. That makes it easier to plan your days and know when to take your medicines before you go out. Generally pollen levels are lower in the early mornings on windless or cloudy days. There is also a pollen forecast on our website
Keep windows closed
It’s best to keep your windows completely closed when your problem grass is flowering. That’s another reason to monitor grass pollen levels every day. Consider air conditioning, if you don’t have it already. It can make pollen-y summer days when you decide to stay home more comfortable.
Be hay fever savvy outdoors
Getting to know your local area can help you avoid any hay fever hotspots. But you probably won’t be able to avoid grass pollen entirely. Wear a hat and sunglasses to help keep the invisible grains out of your eyes. You may need to swap shorts for long-leg trousers if grass gives you an allergic rash.
Zone your home
Keep your bedroom and main living area as pollen-free as possible. Change your clothes when you get home and leave shoes by the door. Wash outdoor clothes and bed linen regularly and use a tumble dryer or hang washing up indoors – never outside. Pets can bring in grass pollen too so groom them regularly and keep them out of your bedroom. Have a shower and wash your hair before bed. And vacuum OFTEN.
Grass allergy treatments
Minimising your exposure to grass may not be enough to control your symptoms. Here are treatments that can help:
- Saline nasal sprays
Drug-free remedies are often a good place to start. A saline nasal spray can help loosen thick mucus and unblock your nose. It can also soothe dry irritation. And you can use a saline spray as often as you need.
Your pharmacist or doctor will be able to recommend a spray and which medications to try. Many antihistamines and corticosteroids are available over the counter. But you’ll need a prescription for stronger types. Some can work as a preventative measure, taken before you expect your grass allergy symptoms to start.
Symptom-relieving medications for grass allergy
An allergic reaction is your immune system trying very hard to get rid of the grass pollen you’ve just breathed in. It does that by creating inflammation which is what causes those allergy symptoms you think of as hay fever. Symptom-relieving medications try to counteract it in different ways.
The most common symptom-reliever for pollen allergies is antihistamine. This blocks the histamine your body releases as part of an allergic reaction. Antihistamine comes in different strengths and forms, including tablets, eye drops and nasal sprays. Nasal corticosteroid sprays can also be effective. These mimic cortisol, a natural inflammatory hormone made by your body. Decongestants help relieve a stuffy nose by shrinking swollen blood vessels in your sinuses. They’re only for short-term use – no more than a few days at a time.
Is there a cure for grass allergy?
The short answer is no but there are specialist treatments. Allergy immunotherapy is something your doctor may suggest if prescription antihistamines and other symptom-relieving meds aren’t working for you.
Does grass allergy mean no lawn?
That may depend on the severity of your grass allergy symptoms. Lawns can be more or less sneezy. Some varieties, known as bunch grasses, typically flower and release pollen when they reach 30cm tall. Keeping your lawn a smartly striped 5cm high should stop that from happening. Your local seed or turf supplier can offer advice on less allergenic grass types, including hybrids and female plants.
Whatever kind of lawn you have, ask a friend who doesn’t get grass pollen allergy symptoms to do the mowing. Or wear a protective mask and clothing if you do it yourself. Be sure the windows are closed first and for a couple of hours afterwards to keep away allergic reactions.
We’re here to help
If you’ve read all the way to the end of this article about grass pollens, thank you. We’d love to know what you think. If you have any questions or would like to share your story of living with grass allergy, email us or head over to our Facebook page or Instagram.