Teresa Lloyd was 2 years old when she first was overcome by sneezing, itchy eyes and a runny nose. Her allergies arrived early.
“I am allergic to everything under the sun—pollens, trees, grasses, dust mites and anything with fur,” says Lloyd, 40, a mother of three in Escondido, Calif.
About 40 million Americans have seasonal allergies, also called hay fever, springtime allergies or allergic rhinitis. Like Lloyd, most are allergic to more than one thing, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
“An allergy is an abnormal reaction by the immune system to something in the environment,” says Dr. Michael J. Welch, co-director of the Allergy and Asthma Medical Group and Research Center and a clinical professor at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine.
“You’re not born with allergies but with an immune system that may create allergies,” he adds.
That predisposition comes embedded in our genes, which then gets “turned on” by environmental triggers. “You usually have to have more than one exposure to an allergen to turn an allergy on,” says Dr. Maria Lania-Howarth, head of the division of allergy, asthma and immunology at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, N.J.
For most people with seasonal allergies, the symptoms—runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing and congestion—arrive in spring and fall when common allergens such as tree and grass pollen, weeds and mold spores thrive.
But the severity depends on where you live. In the Northeast, for example, you may be bothered only in spring and summer. But in a climate where year-round blooming occurs, you’re apt to suffer throughout the year.