Spring and Seasonal Allergies

If you or a family member has seasonal allergies, which are triggered by environmental allergens like pollen, you probably know that spring can be a rough time of year, especially if you live in an area with a high pollen count. Here at Neocate, we hear from some parents that their children’s food allergy symptoms seem worse at this time of year. Let’s take some time to review the similarities and differences between food allergy and environmental allergy symptoms.

Seasonal Allergies

Allergies that show up in the spring are also called hay fever or allergic rhinitis. They are usually caused by pollen: the body recognizes proteins in pollen as “foreign” and mounts an immune response, like it does to bacteria or viruses. This causes the symptoms associated with seasonal allergies. Most of these symptoms are “above the neck” and include sneezing, itchy eyes, or a runny nose. Some folks are allergic to only one or a few types of pollen, whereas others are sensitive to many types of pollen. Symptoms can show up after a move to a new geographic area where the plants, and the pollen, are different. It seems that allergic rhinitis isn’t limited to older children and adults: infants can have it too.

Food Allergies

Food allergies are a response to the proteins in food. When that food (or even a trace amount of that food) is consumed, the body mounts an immune response. In this way, food allergies can be similar to seasonal allergies. Most of the food allergy symptoms fall “below the neck” because the body responds to the part of the body where the food is: the gut. In older children and adults these symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, and an itchy sensation in the mouth, among others. The symptoms are different for infants who have a milk and/or soy allergy than those of older children and adults.


Food allergies and seasonal allergies share some of the same symptoms. For instance, both can cause a runny nose, headache, and congestion as a result of exposure to allergens that are foods or pollen. The two are also similar in that their symptoms can both be minimized by avoiding their respective triggers.


Fortunately seasonal allergies can also be treated with medications. This is nice because pollen can make symptoms persist constantly, often for weeks at a time. Unfortunately, there aren’t any widely used medications to help treat mild to moderate food allergies. The best treatment for food allergies is avoidance. Along those lines, it’s easier to avoid food allergens than it is to avoid the triggers for seasonal allergies. Even if there were a medication that helped with mild food allergies, some food allergies are so severe that the only treatment is to entirely avoid the food in question.

If your child is exhibiting symptoms that aren’t clearly one allergy or the other, ask yourself these questions:

-Monitor the pollen count: are the symptoms worse as pollen counts go up?

-Monitor the diet: has anything new been added that could cause the symptoms?

-Is your child exhibiting new symptoms, or are the same symptoms getting worse?

If your child has food allergies and his or her symptoms seem to get worse at a certain time of year, it may be that new or worsened symptoms could be due to seasonal allergies, which aren’t helped by avoiding food allergens. Ultimately, it’s probably best to see an allergist, especially if your child has symptoms that are making them miserable. Allergists can help by identifying the cause of a seasonal allergy, suggesting ways to minimize symptoms, and prescribing drugs that might help as needed. Check with the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology to locate an allergy center near you.

Did you have a tough time telling what was causing your child’s allergy symptoms?

– Rob McCandlish, RDN

Published: 04/19/2011
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