Grass Pollen Allergy
Grass pollen allergy is one of the most common causes of allergy symptoms. Grass pollen allergy is also seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever). This affects 10 to 30% of children and adults in U.S.
Grass causes most late spring and summer pollen allergy symptoms during April through early June.1 But in warmer parts of the country, it can be found year-round. It can sometimes overlap with tree pollen and weed pollen seasons.
Grass pollen is light and easily carried by the wind. So even if you aren’t allergic to the grass near your home, you could still come into contact with grass pollen from other locations.
What Are the Symptoms of Grass Pollen Allergy (Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis)?
If you have a grass pollen allergy, you will only have symptoms when the pollen you are allergic to is in the air. Symptoms of a seasonal allergic rhinitis include:
- Runny nose (also known as rhinorrhea – this is typically a clear, thin nasal discharge)
- Stuffy nose (due to blockage or nasal congestion – one of the most common and troublesome symptoms)
- Postnasal drip (mucus runs from the back of your nose down your throat)
- Sneezing (sometimes uncontrollable, repeating episodes that can be severe)
- Itchy nose, eyes, ears, and mouth
- Red and watery eyes
- Swelling around the eyes
- Moody and irritable
- Disturbed sleep
If you have asthma and are allergic to grass pollen, you may have allergic asthma. This means grass pollen triggers your asthma symptoms.
What Types of Grasses Trigger the Most Allergies?
There are hundreds of types of grasses, but only a few cause allergy symptoms. Your location may determine which grasses may cause your symptoms.
The most common grasses that cause allergies are:
- Bermuda – very allergenic
- Fescue – very allergenic
- Kentucky blue
- Orchard – very allergenic
- Rye – very allergenic
- Sweet vernal – very allergenic
- Timothy – very allergenic
If it seems like grass pollen season is more intense and lasts longer than it used to, you aren’t imagining it. Climate change is also increasing carbon dioxide and is leading to longer growing seasons. This means higher amounts of grass pollen released during the allergy season.
Can a Grass Allergy Make Me React to Certain Foods?
If you are allergic to certain pollens, such as Timothy or orchard grass pollen, you may have allergy symptoms in or near your mouth when eating certain foods. The name of this reaction is oral allergy syndrome (OAS). The more up-to-date term here is pollen food allergy syndrome (PFAS).
OAS/PFAS happens because some grass pollen is similar to the protein in some fruits, vegetables, and nuts.2 Your immune system gets confused and can’t tell the difference between the two. Eating these foods may cause your mouth, lips, tongue, and throat to itch or swell. You may be able to eat foods that cause OAS/PFAS symptoms if you remove their skins and/or cook them. Heat affects the proteins (e.g., breaks them down), so you may be able to eat these foods cooked instead of raw. For example, a fresh tomato may cause symptoms, but a person with OAS may be able to eat cooked marinara sauce or ketchup without symptoms.
Timothy and orchard grass pollen can cross-react and trigger oral allergy symptoms when you eat:
- White potato
What Is the Treatment for Grass Pollen Allergy?
There is no cure for a grass pollen allergy, but you can manage it. There are many allergy treatment options to help you. Here are some steps to managing your grass pollen allergy:
- Talk with your doctor and get a valid allergy test to confirm your allergies or to rule out allergies. Skin prick testing is done by an allergist. This test adds a small amount of the allergen to your skin and pricks the surface of your skin. The allergist then assesses your immune reaction. An allergist or primary care provider may order a blood test known as a specific immunoglobulin (IgE) allergy test. This testing also assesses your immune reaction to common allergens such as grass pollen.
- Track the pollen count for your area. The local news often reports the type of pollen and count for your area, especially when pollen is high. You also can check for your area’s pollen counts from the National Allergy Bureau.
- Stay indoors with central air conditioning when the pollen count is high, if possible. Get a CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly® air filter for your air conditioner. If you don’t have air conditioning to stay cool, try to keep your windows and doors closed during high pollen days and hours. During grass pollen season, grass starts releasing pollen in the morning and it peaks in midday or afternoon.
- Prevent pollen from being tracked into your home. If you spend a lot of time outside during peak pollen time:
- Take your shoes off outside
- Don’t wear your “outside” clothes to bed
- Cover your hair when outside or wash it at night
- Wipe off pets before they enter your home
- Consider taking a shower when coming indoors after being outdoors for a significant period of time
- Take allergy medicines and start treatment before grass pollen season starts in your area. Find out what time of year grass pollen starts to appear in your area so you can start allergy treatment at least two weeks before pollen season begins. Many over-the-counter medicines work well to control pollen allergy symptoms. They can also help eye, nose, and airway symptoms.
Allergy Medicine Guide
Nasal rinse: Using a saline (saltwater) nose rinse can help cut down mucus and rinse pollen out of your nose. Remember to use these as directed.
Nose sprays: Corticosteroid nose sprays are effective and have few side effects. They treat the swelling and inflammation in your nose. (Examples include Nasacort®, FLONASE®, and RHINOCORT®.) Antihistamine nasal sprays such as Astelin and Patanase are also effective options.
Eye drops: Allergy eye drops can be very helpful in managing eye allergy symptoms. They can relieve burning sensation, itchiness, redness, increased tearing, and swelling. Common eye drops include SYSTANE® ZADITOR®, Optivar, and Pataday®. In addition, artificial tears can be helpful.
Antihistamines: Antihistamines come in pill, liquid, or nasal spray form. They can relieve sneezing and itching in the nose and eyes. They also reduce a runny nose and, to a lesser extent, nasal stuffiness. Look for a long-acting, non-drowsy antihistamine. (Examples include ZYRTEC®, Claritin®, Allegra®, CLARINEX®.)
Decongestants: Decongestants are available as pills, liquids, nasal sprays, or drops. They help shrink the lining of the nasal passages and relieve stuffiness. They generally are only used for a short time (usually three days or less – examples include SUDAFED®, Vicks Sinex™, Afrin®). Check with your doctor before using decongestants if you have high blood pressure, glaucoma, thyroid disease, or trouble urinating.
Leukotriene modifiers (such as montelukast): This medicine can help by blocking chemicals your body releases when you have an allergic reaction. (Examples include SINGULAIR®, Zyflo CR®, ACCOLATE®.)
Note: Montelukast (brand name SINGULAIR®) has a black box warning. This is a safety warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means you need to be aware of a drug’s side effects or important instructions for safe use of the drug. We encourage you to speak with your health care provider before, during, and after the start of any new medicine. If your doctor recommends montelukast, talk with them about possible risks and concerns.
Cromolyn sodium: This is a nasal spray that blocks the release of chemicals that cause allergy symptoms, including histamine and leukotrienes. This medicine has few side effects, but you must take it four times a day. (Examples include NasalCrom®)
Should I Move to Get Relief From My Grass Pollen Allergy?
Grasses that produce allergenic pollen are found in every state. If you move, you may get some relief for a short time. But you can develop allergies to the grasses in your new area in a few years. Instead, work with an allergist on a solid treatment plan.
2. Oral allergy syndrome (OAS) | AAAAI. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2022, from https://www.aaaai.org/tools-for-the-public/conditions-library/allergies/oral-allergy-syndrome-(oas)
Medical Review: June 2022 by John James, MD
Your location can have an impact on your seasonal allergies. AAFA’s Allergy Capitals™ report looks at the top 100 most challenging cities in the continental United States to live with seasonal pollen allergies.