Grass Pollen Allergy: Making the Most of Summer

Summer is finally here! Longer days, days spent by the beach or the pool, and late nights catching fireflies are on the horizon. Allergies are usually associated with the spring or fall because pollen is most active during these times. However, summer allergies, especially to grass, are also common. This grass pollen allergy can cause some of the same troublesome symptoms as in other seasons.

Allergy Season

Grass begins to pollinate in the late spring, typically April or May in the northern part of the country. The pollination period in the north will then typically continue through June or July. However, in southern regions, grasses may pollinate throughout many seasons and could trigger symptoms throughout the year. These pollination time periods are when those who suffer from a grass pollen allergy

notice their symptoms at their worst.

Types of Grass Pollen

There are hundreds of different kinds of grasses throughout the United States. Fortunately, not all of them are the source of summer sneezing, congestion, and itchy eyes. Some grass pollen types are small, light, dry and can travel for hundreds of miles by the wind. One group of grasses, referred to as the northern pasture grasses, cause more allergy problems than any others. These grasses include:

  • common timothy grass
  • sweet vernal grass
  • orchard grass
  • perennial rye grass
  • Kentucky bluegrass

Another type of grass, bermuda, is a southern grass and is responsible for many troubling summer grass allergy symptoms. Johnson grass is another main culprit for grass pollen misery.

Grass pollen allergy can make summertime miserable.
Grass pollen allergy can make summer time miserable for many.

Options for Homeowners

While common Bermuda grass usually triggers allergies, some hybridized versions produce little to no pollen. One common type of hybrid Bermuda grass referred to as the "Princess 77" variety is available for homeowners. Other good hybrid Bermuda grass varieties include "Tifway" and "Santa Ana". Buffalo grass may be a good warmer climate option. This warm-season grass survives droughts and requires little supplemental watering, making it ideal for areas with watering restrictions. Types like the "UC Verde" or "609" produces only female plants, eliminating the problems of flowering and producing pollen. Although less commonly found, this is ideal for grass pollen sufferers.

Measuring Grass Pollen Counts

Those that suffer from a grass pollen allergy can benefit from checking their local pollen counts regularly. Pollen counts are determined collecting pollen on special rods. The pollen is then counted under a microscope. The pollen count is then calculated in grains per cubic meter of air. Pollen counts tend to be the highest early in the day, or often when the wind picks up just before a large rainstorm.

If you like dancing in the rain, or jumping in rain puddles, however, you are in luck. During a rainstorm and immediately following, pollen becomes still and dormant due to the rain making it damp and heavy. As the air becomes warm and dry following the storm, the pollen count will become potent again

Manage Your Grass Pollen Allergy

Pollen counts are never zero, nor will an allergy sufferer truly be able to avoid grass pollen in the summer. However, some practices may help decrease pollen exposures. For instance, utilizing the air conditioner while keeping the windows and doors to the home and car closed. Also, utilizing the dryer rather than the fresh breeze to dry clothing will help to decrease pollen exposures. It is especially important to keep windows closed when you or someone close mowing their grass.

Although it may seem like a good idea to avoid cutting the grass as much as possible, mowing grass often and keeping grass short actually causes the grass to release less pollen into the air. If a nonallergic friend or family member isn’t available to assist in cutting your grass, consider wearing a mask. Wearing masks will help to minimize the amount of pollen reaching the nasal passages. It is greatly beneficial for grass pollen sufferers to wear a mask when cutting grass or doing other yardwork.

Other Helpful Tips

Those with a grass pollen allergy should try to avoid heavily dense grassy areas, especially in early summer when pollen is the most dense and abundant. Although summer brings warmer temperatures. when you are out working in the yard, out at a park, or hiking it is recommended to wear long pants or long sleeve shirts in a light breathable fabric. This added layer of protection helps reduce the amount of pollen that comes in direct contact with your skin. Similarly, wearing sunglasses and hats also reduce pollen that contacts eyes or nestles in your hair.

Grass pollen allergy suffers should also make a habit of changing their clothes after coming in from being outdoors, and bathing prior to getting into bed/laying on upholstered furniture. Wash bedding in very hot, sanitizing cycles once a week in peak pollen seasons. It is also beneficial to remove shoes before entering your home. And do not forget your pets! They can be major sources of tracking grass pollen into your home. Make sure to wipes them down with a wet cloth or towel before they enter your home, and make sure to bathe them more frequently in high pollen seasons. And although not always feasible, the ability to keep your pets from sleeping in your bed, in your bedroom, or on your upholstered furniture will also greatly benefit you if you suffer from grass pollen.

Symptom Relief is an Option

If someone is unsure whether grass pollen is a trigger for their troublesome nasal congestion, runny nose, postnasal drip, sneezing, and itchy watery eyes, seeing their provider for an allergy test may provide the clarity they are looking for!

Amanda Hofmann, MPAS, PA-C, is a graduate of Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, PA. After spending 8 years in clinical practice, she joined United Allergy Services where she is currently the Vice President of Clinical. Amanda is also the past president of the Association of PAs in Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. 

United Allergy Services is also on FacebookLinkedInor TwitterSee other interesting and related articles on the UAS Blog.

Independence from Summer Allergies

Tips for independence from summer allergy concerns
Summer Allergy relief tips

The Fourth of July is only one week away and that likely means many are making or finalizing plans to be outside. Are you planning to be the grill master? How about the fireworks expert? Maybe you are the ultimate host of the celebration surrounded by family and friends enjoying fireworks, picnics, swimming, and outdoor activities. Here are some of the most common summer allergy tips to for attending Fourth of July celebrations. After all, it is your right to have independence from summer allergies!

Number One Summer Allergy: Grass Pollen 

During the summer months, many allergy sufferers are wary of grass pollen. They are the most common seasonal allergy triggers and are heaviest in May through August. Those that suffer from grass pollen allergies can benefit from checking their local pollen counts daily. Pollen counts tend to be the highest early in the day or as the wind picks up just before a large rainstorm.

Also, try to offer guests an indoor option during your outdoor celebration if possible. Try to offer a portion of the area where guests can sit away from tall/dense grass or shrubbery. Another options would be a non-grass surface like a deck or patio. To avoid bringing those pollens inside after a great celebration, take a shower or bath before hopping into bed. This will help rinse off any sticky allergens stuck to your body or hair before they stick to your bedding.

Summer Skin Allergy: Sunscreen Reactions

Many celebrations occur outside or around the pool, so sunscreen is important to discuss. While sunscreen is a crucial part of summer safety, sometimes it can cause a reaction much worse than a sunburn. A contact allergy to the sunscreen may present as a rash appearing where it was applied. Or it could be a reaction that appears after applying the sunblock and being exposed to the sun.

To avoid a sunscreen reaction, apply a quick and simple patch test before applying the product to your whole body. Decide on a small area, like the wrist, and apply the product. Wait at least 24 hours to make sure the skin does not react.

Summer Venom Allergy: Stinging Insects

Similar to sharing the festive star-spangled celebrations with pollen and sun, consider insects as well. We know stinging insects such as bees, wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets are most active during summer and early fall. Also, fire ants are active all year round in many southern parts of the United States.

For many of us stings and bites can be uncomfortable and painful. However, there are many picnic guests that have life-threatening reactions that can result from a sting or bite. People who know they are at risk should always carry two doses of auto injectable epinephrine. They should have the ability to access it within 60 seconds if necessary. Try to avoid the stings and bites before they occur by refraining from walking outdoors barefoot, especially in grassy areas. Another helpful trick is to skip perfume or sweet-smelling body sprays or lotions. Also, drinking from cans or bottles that have sat open and unattended should be avoided because sometimes insects can be an unpleasant surprise. Finally, when choosing the perfect outfit for the holiday weekend, leave your vivid, floral clothes in the closest.

Summer Asthma Concerns

When we think of the Fourth of July, firework displays lighting up the sky quickly come to mind. Fireworks, although beautiful and breathtaking, can create smoke and small particulate matter. This can trigger asthma for some, taking their breath away in a not so enjoyable way. If you suffer from asthma, consider watching the fireworks from an indoor location. Similar to fireworks, smoke from grills, bonfires, firepits, or outdoor fireplaces can also trigger asthma for some. Try to avoid the direct smoke pathway and leave significant distance between yourself and the source of the smoke.

Other scented products utilized during outdoor gatherings can also contribute to air pollution and can also trigger asthma. If hosting a party, it would be helpful to contact your guests and ask if certain things like scented insect repelling candles, scented tiki torch oil, odor hiding fragrances or air fresheners trigger any negative responses for them.

If there is a swimming pool, remember that while chlorine isn't an allergen, it is an irritant and can cause problems with eye and nose itching. It can also cause breathing problems in people with asthma. If undesired symptoms are occurring while swimming, jump out, take off your suit and washing the affected area with clean water and soap to remove traces of the remaining irritant. You should have a rescue inhaler on hand, if prescribed to you, to calm any respiratory symptoms should they occur.

Summer Food Allergy Considerations

Finally, what would a summer celebration be without all the tasty food and drinks? If food allergies are present, it can make attending picnics and barbeques easier to pack your own meals or snacks to have readily available. Preparing food, yourself is always the safest option, however, it may not be feasible may not allow you to feel you are enjoying all the perks of a summer celebration. It is helpful as a host to ask about any food allergies or dietary restrictions when inviting guests to the event. It is also very helpful to label what individual dishes or offers are and include a high-level recipe or ingredient list. That way guests can privately identify safe selections off the menu in and will allow them to enjoy immersing themselves in the full experience without the worry of unknown exposure.

Amanda Hofmann, MPAS, PA-C, is a graduate of Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, PA. After spending 8 years in clinical practice, she joined United Allergy Services where she is currently the Vice President of Clinical. Amanda is also the past president of the Association of PAs in Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. 

United Allergy Services is also on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter. See other interesting and related articles on the UAS Blog.