There are 10,000 species of grass but about 20 cause grass pollen allergy symptoms. That’s 0.2%. Which may sound a tiny fraction but it can feel too much to the millions of people who get hay fever. Particularly as it’s common to be allergic to grass of more than one type. In the summer time it can be very hard to think about anything else if you’re affected. So let’s find out how to recognize the symptoms and how to manage them.
Let’s clear this up right away. You can have hay fever without having grass pollen allergy. The medical name for it is allergic rhinitis. Your symptoms could be seasonal but triggered by pollen from trees or weeds instead. Indoor allergens like dust mites can cause hay fever-like symptoms all year round. Grass pollen is one of the most common triggers though.
Nasal congestion, a runny nose and sneezing are among the most common grass allergy symptoms.
But you may get any combination of the following:
Clear mucus makes it more likely to be hay fever. Yellow mucus, a raised temperature and aching muscles tend to be cold symptoms. Read more about how to tell the difference here.
Touching grass may also cause itchy red skin. This is known as grass rash but is much less common.
Your immune system wrongly identifies this powder – pollen – as a threat and overreacts to protect you. Cue the clear mucus, itchy eyes and sneezing
People who are allergic to grass may get an itchy throat or mouth when eating certain fruit or vegetables. This is known as oral allergy syndrome (OAS). The species of grass most likely to cause it are orchard (cocksfoot) and timothy grass.
It happens because the food contains similar allergenic proteins to grass pollen. Foods to watch out for include white potato, tomato, orange, peach and watermelon. If you do react to any of these you might still be able to eat them after removing the peel and cooking them. That breaks down the proteins.
The tiny grains that grass releases to fertilize other grass is what gets your nose in a twitch. Your immune system wrongly identifies this powder – pollen – as a threat and overreacts to protect you. Cue the clear mucus, itchy eyes and sneezing.
The problem looks likely to get worse too. Climate change in North America has already lengthened pollen season by up to four weeks.
Pollination happens at varying times depending on where you are in the world. Grass pollen season is in late spring or early summer in the north of the US. In the southern states the plants may pollinate year round.
Grasses are closely related so you may be allergic to more than one type. If they release pollen at different times this may extend your grass allergy season. The klarify app has pollen calendars to help identify the peak times for you in your area.
Oral allergy syndrome
Only a handful of species cause grass pollen allergy symptoms. These include Bermuda, johnson, Kentucky, orchard, rye, sweet vernal and timothy grasses among others. Some only release pollen when they grow tall. But planted meadows are being used more and more to improve the biodiversity and look of urban areas. This means more pollen too.
Even if the type you’re allergic to doesn’t grow in your local area it might still affect you. On windy days grass pollen grains can travel for hundreds of miles.
If your grass allergy symptoms bother you have them medically reviewed. Your healthcare provider may suggest an allergy test – usually a skin prick test or simple blood test – to help make a diagnosis. Then you’ll be able to discuss ways to manage your grass pollen allergy, from avoidance to treatment options.
and treatment options
Hay fever can have quite an impact on your everyday life. Especially during the summer months when it’s warm and sunny outside. But there are things you can do to reduce grass allergy symptoms. Get someone else to mow the lawn for a start. Here are some ideas.
One way to control your grass allergy symptoms is by reducing your exposure to the pollen. The klarify app can help. Check it first thing every day and then plan your day. The app lets you track daily grass pollen levels, the weather and air quality in your area. There’s also a pollen forecast on our website. If the pollen levels are high you might want to stay home.
If you struggle with hay fever, why not think of other ways to enjoy the things you’d usually do outside. Perhaps you can work remotely to avoid a sneezy commute? Do your fitness class online. Invite friends to your home or meet them somewhere indoors.
Close the windows when grass pollen levels are high. And try not to bring pollen in with you. Take off coats and shoes near the door and ask visitors to do the same. Remember to wipe dogs and cats with a towel before letting them back inside. Vacuum at least once a week and more if you have pets. Dry your clothes indoors instead of on a washing line.
A shower and rinsing your hair before bed can help to wash off any pollen you’ve picked up during the day. Leave dirty clothes in the bathroom – or somewhere that isn’t where you sleep. Your bedroom should be a pet-free zone too. And change your bedding once a week.
Wear wrap-around sunglasses and a hat to keep pollen out of your eyes and off your hair. Consider swapping shorts for long-legged pants if you get grass rash. And think about wearing a face mask if your symptoms are getting you down.
Grass allergy symptoms can make you feel low as well as unwell. Ask for help if avoiding pollen isn’t working – or not well enough. Your healthcare provider will be able to discuss your treatment options. These might include:
People often choose to start with drug-free relief. Saline nasal sprays help to wash away a build-up of mucus in the nose. Saline eye drops can reduce swelling on the surface of the eye (cornea), easing redness, watery eyes and itching. You can use both as often as you like.
There are two common medicines for easing grass allergy symptoms. Antihistamines block histamine. That’s the chemical released in an allergic reaction which causes a lot of your symptoms. Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory medications. They work by copying a natural hormone in your body. Decongestants tackle a blocked or stuffy nose but should only be taken for a short time. These medications come in various forms and strengths, some over-the-counter, others only with a prescription.
Antihistamines and steroids may work as a preventative measure; try taking them from a couple of weeks before grass pollen season to help minimize hay fever symptoms.
Immunotherapy is the one treatment that can teach your immune system not to react so strongly. It comes in the form of injections (subcutaneous immunotherapy) or tablets taken under the tongue (sublingual immunotherapy). Both are taken for several years. The repeated tiny doses of the allergen are a form of desensitization.
Studies have shown that immunotherapy for one type of grass can reduce allergies to related species. The lasting effects vary from person to person. But the goal is for grass pollen to cause only mild, if any, symptoms.
Interested in learning more about allergy immunotherapy? We can help you find a doctor to talk you through the treatment.