Mayo Clinic Q&A: When Allergies Come, It's Time to Find Relief

Mayo Clinic Q&A: When Allergies Come, It’s Time to Find Relief

Dear Mayo Clinic: I love the changing seasons and look forward to the warmer days of spring. Unfortunately, I am often miserable with seasonal allergies. What can I do to keep the tissue box in place and enjoy the spring weather?

Answer: As we turn calendars to April and May, spring is in the air. Warmer springtime temperatures mean trees are budding, flowers are blooming, and grass is growing. And people are often more active outdoors. But for many people like you, spring means a heavy dose of misery in the form of sneezing, watery eyes and a stuffy nose.

Seasonal allergies, also called hay fever and allergic rhinitis, occur when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance such as pollen, animal dander or dust mites. Allergic rhinitis patients experience a flare-up of symptoms with exposure to their allergens. For those with spring pollen allergies, dry, windy days can be particularly troublesome due to the high levels of airborne pollen.

To reduce the severity of allergy symptoms, it can help to limit outdoor activity on such days and change clothes when returning indoors. Better yet, take a shower to rinse off the remaining pollen. Also, use allergy medications before a planned exposure.

You can find pollen forecasts for your area on local TV and radio stations or the Internet. If high numbers of pollen are expected, close the doors and windows of your home and start taking allergy medications before symptoms start. If possible, it can help to plan outdoor activities after a good rain, removing pollen into the air.

Oral medications are especially helpful for mild allergy symptoms, and many are available over the counter. Uninterrupted antihistamines can relieve itching, sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes. It is well tolerated with minimal side effects. If you find that one type of antihistamine makes you sleepy, try a different type to see if you tolerate it better. Oral decongestants containing pseudoephedrine can temporarily relieve a stuffy nose and congestion, but they should be used with caution because they may cause insomnia and high blood pressure in some people.

For more persistent allergy symptoms, steroid nasal sprays are often the best treatment option. They prevent inflammation and swelling caused by irritants and airborne allergens, and prevent allergy symptoms.

Over-the-counter steroid nasal sprays include triamcinolone, fluticasone, and budesonide. These medications usually start working after a few days and can take a few weeks to reach their peak effect. It is best to use it constantly during allergy season. It’s OK to combine steroid nasal sprays with an oral antihistamine if needed.

Be careful not to confuse steroid nasal sprays with decongestant nasal sprays, such as oxymetazoline (Afrin). Afrin sprays work well for quick relief of severe nasal congestion, but they are addictive and can make nasal congestion worse when used for a long time. This type of nasal spray should not be used for more than three days in a row, and even only occasionally.

If you have itchy eyes, try an over-the-counter antihistamine. They are often quieter when placed in the refrigerator. Oral antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays can eventually help with itchy eyes, but antihistamine eye drops often provide the quickest relief.

If you have asthma with allergies, inhaled medications will likely be an important part of your treatment plan. Some inhalers suppress the lung inflammation that causes asthma. Other inhalers, such as albuterol, widen the airway to temporarily relieve asthma symptoms. Your health care team can help direct whether you will benefit from inhaled therapy.

If you’re still miserable after consistently using over-the-counter medications, an allergist or immunologist can direct additional treatment options, including allergy shot considerations. This treatment consists of a series of injections to improve tolerance to exposure to allergens and reduce associated allergy symptoms over time. Allergy shots take months to start working and require a long commitment, but their effectiveness in reducing the burden of allergy symptoms and medication needs is well documented.

Follow these tips to combat seasonal allergies and you’ll be able to enjoy all the pleasures this season has to offer — and leave a tissue at home. –

Dr. Mansi Kanuja

Allergy and Immunology, Mayo Clinic Health System, Red Wing, Minnesota.

Mayo Clinic FAQs is an educational resource and does not replace regular medical care. Email a question to MayoClinicQ&A@mayo.edu. For more information visit

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2022-05-14 11:33:28

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