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Grass allergy

4 min read

It’s healthy to spend time in fresh air and nature, but for some people, grass pollen spread by wind can cause them to have an allergic reaction. This is known as grass allergy, and it can lead to a range of uncomfortable symptoms.

What is grass allergy?

Grass allergy occurs when a person has an allergic reaction after being exposed to pollen from grasses (as well as trees, plants and some weeds) at certain times of the year.

Grass pollen spreads when blown by the wind. Common grass species that cause grass allergy include:

  • Annual blue/winter grass
  • Bahia grass
  • Bermuda or couch grass
  • Canary grass
  • Cocksfoot or orchard grass
  • Johnson grass
  • Kentucky blue or June grass
  • Ryegrass
  • Timothy grass.

Other plants that commonly cause allergies include pellitory weed (also known as asthma weed), Paterson’s curse, ragweed and parthenium weed.

Australian native grasses are less likely to cause allergies than those introduced from overseas, exotic or lawn-variety grasses.

When am I at risk of grass allergy?

You are more at risk of a grass allergy during the time of year when grasses are producing pollen.

In northern coastal areas, that’s generally January, February and March. In southern Australia, it’s generally October, November and December. But some grasses and weeds flower all year round.

There is more grass pollen in inland areas. There is also more pollen on Australia’s south coast than the east coast.

It can be hard to avoid exposure to pollen and some pollen seasons can last for months.

To find out when you might be at risk from certain types of pollen, check the ASCIA pollen calendar.

Symptoms of grass allergy

Grass allergy from pollen can cause hay fever and thunderstorm asthma, with symptoms that include:

  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • blocked nose
  • itchy or red eyes
  • throat irritation
  • wheezing and chest tightness
  • cough.

Diagnosis of grass allergy

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and try to identify potential triggers. Keeping a diary of symptoms might help.

Your doctor might also order an allergy test to work out what you are allergic to.

Preventing and treating grass allergy

There are many things you can do to reduce the chance that you experience grass allergy symptoms. Where possible, try to:

  • stay indoors until after midday, particularly in the pollen season and on windy days
  • avoid going out before or during thunderstorms, particularly when pollen counts are high; see also information on thunderstorm asthma
  • wear sunglasses to protect your eyes
  • don't mow the lawn, and stay inside while it's being mown
  • check your garden for plants that might bring on allergic reactions, and consider planting a low-allergy garden
  • keep your windows closed at home and in the car
  • if you use air conditioning in the car, put it on recirculate rather than fresh air
  • try to have holidays by the beach, where the sea breeze keeps pollen down, or avoid holidays in pollen season
  • shower when you get home and run water over your eyes.

You can also talk to your pharmacist or doctor about medications.

  • Antihistamines (tablets or syrup) help stop sneezing, itchy eyes and other symptoms.
  • Corticosteroid nasal sprays reduce inflammation.
  • Decongestants (nasal sprays or tablets) unblock your nose but have side effects such as tremors, sleeping problems, anxiety and increased blood pressure.
  • Salt water nasal sprays can reduce inflammation.

If you are prone to thunderstorm asthma, you may need to take asthma medication as a precaution in spring, the first time that you notice 'wheezy' breathing or coughing.

Some people benefit from immunotherapy treatment, which exposes you to small doses of allergens to help stop your allergic reaction. It takes a while to work, and needs to be undertaken with the help of an allergy specialist.

Where to get help

If you think you might have a grass allergy, healthdirect's online Symptom Checker can help you work out where to get the support and services you need.

Last reviewed: December 2017

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