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Hay Fever and Other Seasonal Allergies

Condition Basics

What are seasonal allergies?

Allergies occur when your body's defense system (immune system) overreacts to certain substances. The immune system treats a harmless substance as if it were a harmful germ or virus. Many things can cause this to happen. Examples include pollens, medicine, food, dust, animal dander, and mold.

Your allergies are seasonal if you have symptoms just at certain times of the year. In that case, you are probably allergic to pollens from certain trees, grasses, or weeds.

Allergies can be mild or severe. Over-the-counter allergy medicine may help with some symptoms. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

Managing your allergies is an important part of staying healthy. Your doctor may suggest that you have tests to help find the cause of your allergies. When you know what things trigger your symptoms, you can avoid them. This can prevent allergy symptoms and other health problems.

In some cases, immunotherapy might help. For this treatment, you get shots or use pills that have a small amount of certain allergens in them. Your body "gets used to" the allergen, so you react less to it over time. This kind of treatment may help prevent or reduce some allergy symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of seasonal allergies include:

  • Itchy, watery eyes.
  • Sneezing.
  • Runny, stuffy, or itchy nose.
  • Temporary loss of smell.
  • Headache and fatigue.
  • Dark circles under the eyes ("allergic shiners").
  • Drainage from the nose down the back of the throat (postnasal drip).
  • Sore throat or coughing.
  • Snoring.

Seasonal allergies occur at the same time of the year every year if you continue to live in the same part of the country.

How can you treat seasonal allergies?

Home treatment is usually all you need to treat seasonal allergies. For example:

  • Clean the inside of your nose with salt water. This can clear a stuffy nose.
  • Use a vaporizer or humidifier in the bedroom and take hot showers to help clear a stuffy nose.
  • If your nose is red and raw from rubbing, put petroleum jelly on the sore area.
  • Use over-the-counter allergy medicine to help your symptoms.
    • To relieve a stuffy nose, use a steroid nasal spray (such as Nasacort). This type of spray can also help with red, itchy, watery eyes.
    • Another way to relieve a stuffy nose is a nasal or oral decongestant (such as Afrin or Sudafed PE).
    • For itchy, watery eyes; sneezing; or a runny, itchy nose, try a nonsedating over-the-counter antihistamine, like fexofenadine (such as Allegra) or loratadine (such as Claritin).
    • To help relieve pain, try acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

How can you prevent them?

Seasonal allergies, such as hay fever (also called allergic rhinitis), are often caused by being exposed to pollen. To reduce your exposure:

  • Keep your house and car windows closed.
  • Limit the time you spend outside when pollen counts are high (during midday and afternoon).
  • Wear a pollen mask or dust mask if you need to mow the lawn.
  • Limit your mowing tasks if you can.
  • Rinse your eyes with cool water or saline eyedrops to remove clinging pollen after you come indoors.
  • Take a shower and change your clothes after you work or play outside.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: February 10, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Rohit K Katial MD - Allergy and Immunology