It’s that time of year again — the season for coughing, sneezing, runny noses, and every agitating symptom in between. Allergy season brings along a plethora of draining symptoms for the 50 million Americans who suffer from chronic allergies throughout the year. While many people write away their symptoms with the simple phrase, “I have allergies,” many don’t know exactly why seasonal allergies happen and how they affect their health. These are the ways that allergies form, how they impact your physical health and mental wellbeing, and how best to treat the symptoms of allergies.

The root of seasonal allergies

If you’re searching for the root of your obnoxious allergies, look no further than your very own immune system. The main role of the immune system is to battle illnesses and diseases, so wouldn’t it fend off the yucky symptoms of allergy season? Nope. In fact, it’s the reason you have allergies in the first place. When your immune system sends cells to fight off and kill pathogens in your blood, it triggers inflammation throughout your body, including in your nasal passages. This is why your sinuses feel tight, your nose runs, and you struggle to breathe when you’re having a bad allergy spell. 

What causes seasonal allergies? Your immune system interprets a harmless substance, such as pollen, as being dangerous and toxic and sends cells to eradicate it. When it does so, your immune system produces the same type of inflammation as it would when fending off any typical disease. This leads to runny noses, sinus headaches, difficulty breathing, and all other nasty seasonal allergy symptoms that we know and despise. Pollen plays a large role in seasonal allergies, as most people with seasonal allergies are experiencing a reaction to a type of pollen such as ragweed, oak, birch, and grass. In 2019, a record amount of pollen has been recorded in the air. According to Rutgers scientists, increasing pollen levels are likely due to climate change around the world. For those who suffer from allergies, this means that allergy season is likely to knock you out more than usual.

Why they make you miserable

Any illness is bound to make you feel yucky, tired, and stressed out. However, chronic allergies often amplify this feeling. Since seasonal allergies are usual long-term (several weeks or months) and persistent, coping with the exhaustion that comes with them can become extremely tiresome after a short period. Constant fits of sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, and runny noses are enough to make even the most resilient person want to curl up in bed until the symptoms pass. After a while, chronic allergy symptoms can lead to apathy and fatigue, making it difficult to keep your energy up throughout the day. These symptoms can contribute to the development of deep sadness, anxiety, and/or depression that may last through or past allergy season.

While there is no proof that allergies and depression are directly related (one doesn’t cause the other), there seems to be a clear link between the two conditions. Some studies have suggested that people with allergies are twice as likely to experience major depression than people without them. Reasonably, the severe symptoms of chronic allergies — migraines, difficulty breathing, coughing through the night, etc. — could cause anyone to feel bummed out, overly stressed, or hopeless after a while. Luckily, there are ways to treat seasonal allergies to try to eradicate the emotional slump that comes with coping with allergy symptoms.

Dealing with allergy season

There are a number of treatments you can try out to snuff out your allergies before they get too terrible. The most popular treatment used to eradicate or minimize allergies is a class of medication called antihistamines. Medicine such as Claritin and Zyrtec, both types of antihistamines, help to get rid of or significantly lessen symptoms such as sneezing, drippy noses, and itchy eyes. How do they work? When your body is introduced to an allergen more than once, it begins to release histamines each time it encounters the allergen. This leads to the response from the immune system that causes allergy symptoms. Antihistamines help prevent or lessen a reaction from your immune system, substantially decreasing your allergy symptoms. Other medications, such as decongestants and nasal spray, can help with allergies, too, so long as they are safe to take along with your antihistamines.

If you want to try to avoid allergens altogether, there are several natural steps you can take to protect yourself from overexposure to pollen. Avoiding doing yard work, gardening, or going out without a pollen mask on dry and windy days can help keep your exposure to pollen to a minimum. Utilizing your indoor air conditioning and vacuuming semi-frequently can help clear out pollen that makes it into your own home. Your local news and radio stations may also report on pollen counts in the air each day, so if your allergies are severe, staying inside on particularly high-pollen days can keep your worst symptoms at bay.