How to deal with spring and summer allergies

Campus spring flowers

Spring and summer may bring warm weather, but they also bring the infamous pollens and molds that prevent some people from enjoying the seasons. UChicago Medicine sat down with allergy expert Christina Ciaccio, MD, MSc, interim chief of allergy/immunology and pulmonology, to find out what people need to know about taking care of themselves during the coming allergy seasons.

What are the most common spring and summer allergies? How do the two seasons differ in terms of allergies?

The most common spring and summer allergies are the pollens and molds. The pollens come from various types of trees, grasses and weeds. In Chicago, the trees generally pollinate in March, April and May. The grass pollinates in May and June. The weeds pollinate from mid-August through the end of September. Outdoor mold starts creeping up at the beginning of June but really becomes a problem in September and October when the leaves are falling from the trees. The mold counts stay high until the first frost.

How can I protect myself and/or my child from these seasonal allergies?

During the pollen and mold season, we recommend jumping in the shower as soon as you get home every night to rinse the pollen off. Put cold, wet washcloths over your eyes and gently squeeze them to rinse the pollen out of your eyes. You may need to keep the air conditioner running through much of the season to keep the pollen out of the house. We never recommend staying indoors all summer, however! We encourage everyone to spend time outside playing as a family.

Should I take or give my child over-the-counter preventative allergy medication, even if I don’t know if I/they have allergies?

The over-the-counter allergy medications are both safe and effective. Steroid nose sprays, such as Flonase, Rhinocort and Nasocort, may help your nose and eye symptoms even if you don’t have allergies. 24-hour antihistamines, such as Claritin, Clarinex, Allegra, Zyrtec, and Xyzal, will also help but typically only if you have allergies. It is safe and considered effective to use a steroid nose spray and 24-hour antihistamine together.

Do patients (or families) come to you with common misconceptions about allergies?

The most common misconception that we hear about allergies is that although someone is allergic to cats or dogs, their pet is hypoallergenic. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog or cat. We understand how important pets are to families, however, and work with families on interventions that work best for the family.

At what point should I see a doctor, if I suspect I am suffering from seasonal allergies?

I recommend seeking the care of an allergist when the over the counter medications are not giving you the relief that you need.

What types of services for diagnosing and treating allergies can I find?

If you see an allergist at UChicago Medicine, we may recommend either skin or blood testing to diagnose your allergies. Depending on the results, we will work with you to develop a treatment plan that may involve medications or immunotherapy (i.e. allergy shots).

Anything else people should know?

Although we are located inside Comer Children’s Hospital, the allergy team treats both children and adults with allergies. In fact, you can make an appointment together with your daughter or son if you like!

Christina Ciaccio

Christina Ciaccio, MD, MSc

Christina Ciaccio, MD, MSc, is the interim chief of allergy/immunology and pulmonology at UChicago Medicine. She provides compassionate care for children and adults with food and environmental allergies, allergic rhinitis, urticaria and angioedema, allergic rashes and asthma.

Learn more about Dr. Ciaccio