Seasonal allergies: Nip them in the bud

Relieve seasonal allergies with these tried-and-true techniques.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Spring means flower buds and blooming trees — and if you're one of the millions of people who have seasonal allergies, it also means sneezing, congestion, a runny nose and other bothersome symptoms. Seasonal allergies — also called hay fever and allergic rhinitis — can make you miserable. But before you settle for plastic flowers and artificial turf, try these simple strategies to keep seasonal allergies under control.

Reduce your exposure to allergy triggers

To reduce your exposure to the things that trigger your allergy signs and symptoms (allergens):

  • Stay indoors on dry, windy days. The best time to go outside is after a good rain, which helps clear pollen from the air.
  • Avoid lawn mowing, weed pulling and other gardening chores that stir up allergens.
  • Remove clothes you've worn outside and shower to rinse pollen from your skin and hair.
  • Don't hang laundry outside — pollen can stick to sheets and towels.
  • Wear a face mask if you do outside chores.

Take extra steps when pollen counts are high

Seasonal allergy signs and symptoms can flare up when there's a lot of pollen in the air. These steps can help you reduce your exposure:

  • Check your local TV or radio station, your local newspaper, or the internet for pollen forecasts and current pollen levels.
  • If high pollen counts are forecasted, start taking allergy medications before your symptoms start.
  • Close doors and windows at night if possible or any other time when pollen counts are high.
  • Avoid outdoor activity in the early morning when pollen counts are highest.

Keep indoor air clean

There's no miracle product that can eliminate all allergens from the air in your home, but these suggestions may help:

  • Use air conditioning in your house and car.
  • If you have forced air heating or air conditioning in your house, use high-efficiency filters and follow regular maintenance schedules.
  • Keep indoor air dry with a dehumidifier.
  • Use a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your bedroom.
  • Clean floors often with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter.

Try an over-the-counter remedy

Several types of nonprescription medications can help ease allergy symptoms. They include:

  • Oral antihistamines. Antihistamines can help relieve sneezing, itching, a stuffy or runny nose, and watery eyes. Examples of oral antihistamines include cetirizine (Zyrtec Allergy), fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy) and loratadine (Claritin, Alavert).
  • Corticosteroid nasal sprays. These medications improve nasal symptoms. Examples include fluticasone propionate (Flonase Allergy Relief), budesonide (Rhinocort Allergy) and triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24 Hour). Talk to your health care provider about long-term use of corticosteroid nasal sprays.
  • Cromolyn sodium nasal spray. This nasal spray can ease allergy symptoms by blocking the release of immune system agents that cause symptoms. It works best if treatment is started before exposure to allergens. It's considered a very safe treatment, but it usually needs to be used 4 to 6 times daily.
  • Oral decongestants. Oral decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) can provide temporary relief from nasal stuffiness. Some allergy medications combine an antihistamine with a decongestant. Examples include cetirizine-pseudoephedrine (Zyrtec-D 12 Hour), fexofenadine-pseudoephedrine (Allegra-D 12 Hour Allergy and Congestion) and loratadine-pseudoephedrine (Claritin-D). Talk to your health care provider about whether the use of a decongestant is good for treating your allergy symptoms.

Rinse your sinuses

Rinsing your nasal passages with saline solution (nasal irrigation) is a quick, inexpensive and effective way to relieve nasal congestion. Rinsing directly flushes out mucus and allergens from your nose.

Saline solutions can be purchased ready-made or as kits to add to water. If you use a kit or home-made saline solution, use bottled water to reduce the risk of infection.

Homemade solutions should have 1 quart (1 liter) of water, 1.5 teaspoons (7.5 milliliters) of canning salt and 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of baking soda.

Rinse the irrigation device after each use with clean water and leave open to air-dry.

Alternative treatments

A number of natural remedies have been used to treat hay fever symptoms. Treatments that may improve symptoms include extracts of the shrub butterbur, spirulina (a type of dried algae) and other herbal remedies. Based on the limited number of well-designed clinical trials, there is not enough evidence to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of these remedies.

Results of studies of acupuncture have shown possible limited benefit, but the results of studies have been mixed.

Talk to your doctor before trying alternative treatments.

When home remedies aren't enough

For many people, avoiding allergens and taking nonprescription medications is enough to ease symptoms. But if your seasonal allergies are still bothersome, don't give up. A number of other treatments are available.

If you have bad seasonal allergies, your health care provider may recommend that you have skin tests or blood tests to find out exactly what allergens trigger your symptoms. Testing can help determine what steps you need to take to avoid your specific triggers and identify which treatments are likely to work best for you.

For some people, allergy shots (allergen immunotherapy) can be a good option. Also known as desensitization, this treatment involves regular injections containing tiny amounts of the substances that cause your allergies. Over time, these injections reduce the immune system reaction that causes symptoms. For some allergies, treatment can be given as tablets under the tongue.

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April 27, 2022 See more In-depth