Seasonal Allergies

WHAT IS IT:  allergic rhinitis (hay fever or seasonal allergies) is most often caused by pollens from trees, grass or weeds.  Generally, it subsides with cold weather.  Some allergies caused by indoor allergens such as dust, mold spores and animal dander can occur year round.  Anyone can develop allergies at any time. 

SYMPTOMS:  Itchy, runny, sneezy or stuffy nose.  Red or itchy eyes, scratchy throat, postnasal drip and cough


Antihistamines inhibit the actions of histamine. They work best if taken before exposure to allergens, and then take regularly to keep symptoms under control. Over the counter antihistamines (ex: Benadryl) may cause drowsiness and dry mouth. Be careful not to drive until you know how an antihistamine affects you. The drowsy side effect may decrease after a few days of taking the medicine. Once a day, non-drowsy Claritin (or Alavert, Loratadine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine) are now available without a prescription. Other non-drowsy antihistamines are also available by prescription.

Nasal Decongestants decrease the swelling of the nasal tissue and the resulting feeling of stuffiness. Oral decongestants (ex: Sudafed or pseudoephedrine) may cause sleeplessness and jitteriness. Topical decongestant sprays (ex: Afrin) can bring good, short-term relief, but they cause a “rebound” congestion (stuffy all the time) if used for more than 2-3 days.

Topical Anti-inflammatories can prevent nasal congestion and are best started before symptoms and used regularly to maintain effectiveness. NasalCrom nose spray is available over the counter. Nasal corticosteroids (ex: Flonase, Nasacort) are prescription nasal sprays. Potential side effect of nasal irritation can be minimized by using a saline nasal spray first.

Antihistamine/decongestant eye drops (ex: Naphcon-A, Opcon-A) give quick relief of allergic symptoms of red, itchy, watery eyes but can lead to rebound or worsening symptoms when the drops are stopped. Now available without a prescription is the antihistamine eye drop Zaditor which works as quickly but without the problem of rebound.


Avoidance of the allergen is the best treatment whenever possible. Limit time outdoors when pollen counts are highest such as early morning and when the pollen count or humidity is reported high. Windy days when dust and pollen are blown may also be avoided. Keep doors and windows closed to keep pollen out of the house and car and keep humidity in your house moderate. Control dust and stay away from furry pets.


If allergies are interfering with your life, if you have questions, or if you have shortness of breath, wheezing or a cough it may be time to see a professional.