Grass allergy is one of the most common pollen allergies, up there with the birch tree and ragweed. In the central and northern United States and Canada, grass generally pollinates in May, June and July.
If the Kleenex box is your constant companion during these months, chances are, you find trouble in the turf.
As with all pollen allergies, those who react to grass suffer from allergic rhinitis, commonly know as hay fever. Typically you’ll sneeze, feel congestion and have itchy eyes and noses. The symptoms may not be as severe as they are for tree pollen allergy or ragweed allergy, because the pollen counts often aren’t as high. On the down side, grasses pollinate for a longer period of time, so you’re bound to have many uncomfortable days.
Those contending with a grass allergy also tend to have more symptoms of conjunctivitis – that is, itchy, watery eyes – than those with tree or ragweed allergy, according to Dr. Harold Kim, an allergist based in Kitchener, Ontario and an assistant professor in the department of clinical immunology and allergy at McMaster University.
“It’s also more likely that they get swelling of the tissues around the eyes,” he says.
Although symptoms are usually limited to the nose and eyes, some who are severely allergic to grass and will get hives upon contact with its pollen. In the most dangerous cases, they can experience a reaction that is close to anaphylaxis.
“I’ve seen it a couple of times,” says Dr. Donald Stark, a Vancouver allergist. “They fall and they try to get the soccer ball, or in baseball, they’re sliding through the grass. That can cause contact hives, and I’ve actually seen almost anaphylactic reactions because they get enough antigen absorbed through the scraped skin.”
If you’ve had such a reaction, Stark recommends asking your allergist to prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector.
Grass Allergy: How to Cope
Grass is hard to escape. Whether it is your neighbors’ lawn, the field where your daughter plays soccer or that empty lot with the tall blades blowing in the wind – it’s everywhere. The type of grass is hardly relevant: if you’re allergic to one kind, you’re likely allergic to every grass, as the species cross-react.
But, there are ways you can protect yourself:
• First, when indoors, keep your windows closed. Draw blinds or curtains and use fans and sometimes air conditioning to keep your home cool. If you’re protected indoors, you’re protected for much of the day.
• Avoid being the person who cuts the grass in the pollinating months of May through July. The lawn mower kicks up the pollen and sends it into your eyes and nose. If it’s only grass allergy you’re contending with, you may be fine to mow the lawn in other months.
Kim notes however, that “often patients will have allergy symptoms with fresh cut grass in August or September. That’s not grass pollen allergy, that may be mold allergy from the molds being stirred up.” As well, Stark cautions that the dust the lawn mower creates while it’s trimming can get into your nasal passages like pollen, and also cause symptoms.
Next: More strategies; medication relief