Allergic Rhinitis

Itchy, watery eyes, sniffles, sneezing, coughing, and sore throat - these bothersome symptoms are all signs of allergic rhinitis, commonly referred to as hay fever.

Allergy season can be an uncomfortable, if not miserable, time for many of us. While blooming flowers, buddings trees, and sprouting mold spores are out with a vengeance during the change of seasons, perennial allergies like dust mites, pet dander, and mold can affect you year-round and tend to worsen during specific pollen seasons. In addition, irritants like cigarettes or other smoke, perfumes, cleaning products, and other strong odors are non-allergic causes of rhinitis.

When your body is exposed to allergens, your immune system responds by producing inflammatory substances such as histamine, which is part of your immune system working to neutralize and eliminate the irritants, resulting in those bothersome allergy symptoms.

Thankfully, there are proactive steps you can take to minimize your exposure to potential allergens:
  • Keep windows closed during high pollen seasons.
  • Wash hands after petting animals.
  • Use dust/mite-proof pillow and mattress covers.
  • Wear glasses when outside to protect the eyes.
  • Shower before bed to remove allergens from hair and skin.
Minimize indoor pollution by not smoking inside your home, decreasing the use of harsh cleaning products, cleaning your air ducts, and installing clean filters.

Taking precautions a couple weeks before the start of allergy season can lessen the severity of your allergy symptoms.

Knowing When Allergy Season Starts Can Help You Prepare
Seasons vary depending on your location. Use this as a general guide and learn more about the specifics of your region.
  • Tree pollen - Late March to April
  • Grass pollen - May
  • Weed pollen - July to August
  • Ragweed pollen - Late August to the first frost
  • Cedar pollen - December to February

Although it may feel a little awkward at first, rinsing out your sinuses and keeping your nasal passages clear of mucus can help manage your allergy symptoms. Nasal irrigation and saline sprays are available over the counter, or you can make your own using salt and boiled sterile or distilled water. Do NOT use tap water.

Over-the-Counter Options

Intranasal steroids sprays are considered the safest and most effective treatment. it is recommended to start using these a week or two before pollen season begins. Available brands include Budesonide (Rhinocort), Fluticasone (Flonase), and Triamcinolone.

Antihistamines, taken as a pill or tablet, help ease itchiness, stop sneezes and clear up runny noses. Loratadine (Claritin), Fexofenadine(Allegra), and Cetirizine (Zyrtec) are all examples of OTC antihistamines.

Cromolyn (Crolom) is an over-the-counter nasal spray that blocks the release of histamines, the chemicals that cause runny nose and sneezing. For best effect, start using Cromolyn before allergy season and symptoms begin.

Decongestants open up a stuffy nose. Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or phenylephrine are available as tablet or pills and should only be used short term, two weeks or less. Decongestant sprays and eye drops are also available, HOWEVER, you should only use them for up to 3 days. It is important to remember that decongestants can raise your blood pressure and should only be used if your blood pressure is well controlled.

If you don’t get adequate symptom relief from over-the-counter medications, your physician can prescribe other options, such as immunotherapy or Rx-only medications. Prescription medications could include montelukast (Singulair), often used to treat asthma which stops the body from making chemicals that cause allergic reactions. Ipratropium (Atrovent) is another asthma medication that can help with an ongoing runny nose.

Allergies or COVID-19? How do you know?

COVID-19 and seasonal allergies have many of the same symptoms, but there are some key differences between them. As you can see in the chart to the right, symptoms caused by COVID-19 and allergies are similar and it is best to contact your physician to discuss the difference between them, and the need for potential COVID testing to determine a diagnosis.
Symptoms more common of COVID-19Symptoms common of bothSymptoms more common of seasonal allergies
Fever & ChillsCoughItchy or Watery Eyes
Muscle and Body AchesShortness of breath or difficulty breathing*Sneezing
New Loss of Taste or SmellFatigue
Nausea or VomitingHeadache
DiarrheaSore Throat
Congestion or Runny NoseChart credit: CDC
*Seasonal allergies do not usually cause shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, unless a person has a respiratory condition such as asthma that can be triggered by exposure to pollen.

Allergies & Sleep

Unfortunately, many people who suffer with allergy symptoms suffer from sleep issues. Disturbances like insomnia, difficulty falling and staying asleep, snoring, and poor sleep quality and quantity are common in allergy sufferers. These symptoms result in awake-time fatigue and can impair your productivity at work or school, increasing stress levels, making it difficult to fall asleep. Allergies not only make it difficult to fall asleep, but they also interfere with our ability to stay asleep. Interrupted sleep caused by a stuffy nose, coughing or a headache day after day results in sleep deprivation that negatively impacts our physical and emotional health. Try these tips for a better sleep:

Close your windows

As much as it feels good to let fresh air into your home, leaving the window open lets allergens in. Keeping your windows closed will keep the allergens out of your bedroom.

Invest in a HEPA air purifier

Placing an air purifier in your bedroom will help clear the air of common household allergens like dust mites, pollen, and pet dander. It is important to change the filters regularly to keep the purifier working efficiently.

Shower before bed

Showering before bed not only washes the pollen away, but is also a great way to relax before bed, helping you get more restful sleep.

Take allergy medication before bed

This will ensure that you have enough medication in your system to carry you through for less interrupted sleep time.

Talk with your physician

Living with allergies can be challenging; speak with your physician about over-the-counter, prescription, and lifestyle changes that could provide you with some relief.