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How to Treat Seasonal Allergies

It’s that time of year again – when your nose drips like a faucet, your eyes feel irritated enough to fall out of their sockets, and you can’t sleep without waking up coughing every 5 minutes…yep, it’s springtime! Learn about hay fever, its symptoms, causes, and 7 possible treatments.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD
5-minute read
Episode #126

About 20% of people living in the U.S. currently suffer from allergic rhinitis. There does tend to be a hereditary component and it tends to be more common in people with a history of asthma or eczema.

See also: How to Treat Asthma

Here are some common allergy culprits:

  • Pollen

  • Trees

  • Grass

  • Weeds

  • Dust

  • Animal dander (most frequently cats and dogs)

  • Cockroaches

  • Mold

Diagnosis of Allergic Rhinitis

Your doctor should be able to diagnose you with allergies simply based on your history and physical exam. Other testing is typically unnecessary. Blood tests for allergies are not deemed very “sensitive,” or accurate enough to pick up the causes of your symptoms. Skin testing is an option, but is performed though an allergy specialist, and is very rarely necessary.

Treatment of Allergies

No matter what the offending allergen is, the key thing to remember is that the treatment is really the same. If you know what you are allergic to (for instance, if your nose turns on like a faucet every time you’re around cats), well then by all means, stay away from that offending agent.

Otherwise, if it’s not as easy to stay away from trees when you live in the humid tropical climate of Del Ray Beach, Florida (although we get more allergic rhinitis than you’d think in my Southern California hometown), just know that your symptoms are treatable by your primary care doctor. Here are some of the tricks up our sleeves:

1. Intranasal steroid sprays: Prescription nasal spray containing a mild steroid is often the first-line of treatment for those with allergy-caused nasal symptoms. Don’t let the word “steroid” scare you here – it’s not the same type of oral steroids that have been associated with the negative side effects we’ve all heard about. And these doses in the nasal sprays are quite low. Nasal steroid sprays have very few side effects, and are quite effective for treating allergy symptoms. However, they are effective only when used daily, not “as needed.” They take days to even a few weeks to reach peak effectiveness.

2. Oral antihistamines: Like I previously mentioned, histamine is a chemical that is released when your immune system encounters an allergen. So it makes sense to use an anti-histamine to combat your symptoms. Over-the-counter loratadine, cetirizine, and fexofenadine are antihistamines that are non-sedating (unlike short-acting diphenhydramine) and last 24 hours. Nasal steroid sprays and one of these three oral antihistamines are usually our first line of defense, and work quite well.

3. Prescription antihistamine nasal spraysAzelastine and olopatadine are two generic nasal spray antihistamine options that require a prescription. The benefit is that they work fast, but on the down side, they also wear off fast. They also aren’t too tasty if they drip to the back of the throat. They are really only appropriate if your symptoms are mild and infrequent.

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.