Seasonal Allergies: Back to Basics

More than 67 million Americans suffer from allergy symptoms. But, what are allergies? And how do they affect your body?

What are Allergies?

An allergy is an exaggerated immune response to foreign substances (that are generally not harmful to non-allergy sufferers) like pollen, bee venom, mold or pet dander. In a person with allergies, the immune system response to these foreign substances is oversensitive. This exaggerated response is what causes allergy symptoms like nasal congestion, coughing, sneezing and itchy eyes.

At this point, you’re probably wondering “why is my body doing this to me?!” Your body is extremely complex. The immune system of the allergic person mistakenly considers allergens to be an invading agent, and in response to the invasion tries to mobilize and attack.

This attack comes in the form of antibodies like histamines which can inflame your skin, sinuses, airways or digestive system. Anti-histamines stop the release of histamine and soothe previously irritated organs.

Seasonal Allergy Symptoms

Allergy symptoms depend on your particular allergy, and can involve the airways, sinuses, nasal passages, skin, and digestive system. For our purposes here, we’ll deal primarily with symptoms associated with “seasonal allergies” or “Hay Fever.” Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, may cause:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, runny nose
  • Wheezing
  • Sore throat
  • Itchy throat/Coughing
  • Itchy, watery or swollen eyes
  • Itchy skin
  • Fatigue and irritability

How do allergies affect the body?

As a general rule, the part of the body the allergen touches directly correlates to the symptoms you’ll develop. For example: Allergens that you breathe in (like pollen, mold, dust mites, and pet dander) often cause a stuffy nose, itchy nose and throat, mucus production, cough, or wheezing; while allergens that touch the eyes may cause itchy, watery, red, swollen eyes.

The severity of allergies varies from person to person and can range from minor irritation to a life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis. While allergies can’t be cured, a number of allergy treatments are available to help relieve your allergy symptoms.

Not sure if it’s allergies or a cold?


OTC medications containing an anti-histamine, like Contac® Cold + Flu Night and Contac® Cold + Flu Cooling Relief, are a great place to start for symptom relief when you’re not certain if you’re suffering from allergies or a cold. Contac Cold + Flu brings relief from allergy symptoms like nasal congestion, sore throat and runny nose and is available in maximum strength nighttime formulas.


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Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD. (2012). Allergies Health Center: Allergy Statistics and Facts. WebMD. Retrieved from October 1, 2012.

Stuart I. Henochowicz, MD, FACP. (2012). Allergies. U.S. National Library of Medicine: PubMed Health. Retrieved from October 2012.

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD. (2012). Allergies Health Center: Antihistamines for Allergies. WebMD Retrieved from October 1, 2012.

Allergic rhinitis. (2011). University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved from October 2012.

Stuart I. Henochowicz, MD. (2012). Allergies. Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from October 1, 2012.