The flowers are in bloom. The grass is growing. And you’re stuck inside blowing your nose, dealing with sneezing fits, drying your watery eyes and hoping your congestion headache goes away soon.
Suffering from seasonal allergies – also known as hay fever – can be miserable. Is there any relief in sight? Yes. There are several ways to treat your allergies – before and after they start acting up.
From natural remedies and over-the-counter medications for treating allergies at home, to prescription treatments and allergy testing with the help of an allergist, take these five steps to treat and relieve your symptoms.
Step 1: Find the best allergy medicine for your symptoms
There are many over-the-counter treatment options for seasonal allergies. Many can be easily built into your daily routine to help relieve symptoms. But what are the best seasonal allergy medicines out there? That all depends on you and your symptoms.
Over-the-counter allergy medications
Antihistamines are a great first step in relieving seasonal allergies. They work by blocking “histamine,” which is a chemical released by your immune system when your body detects something harmful.
In the case of seasonal allergies, your immune system is overreacting to certain allergens when it releases histamine. And that overreaction is what causes all those allergy symptoms.
There are several brands of oral antihistamines on the market. Some, like Benadryl, are very effective at reducing allergy symptoms but can cause drowsiness. And for kids under age 6, Benadryl can sometimes cause hyperactivity.
Newer medications such as Claritin, Allegra, Xyzal or Zyrtec have reduced these side effects. There are also generic versions of these brands that are just as effective but less expensive.
Eyes bothering you? Antihistamine eye drops like Zaditor (ketotifen) and Pataday (olopatadine) are also available over the counter to help soothe itchy, watery eyes.
Of course, with so many choices, it can be hard to know what antihistamine is right for you. So, talk with your doctor or clinician to see what they recommend based on your most common symptoms.
Nasal steroid sprays
Nasal steroid sprays, like Flonase and Nasacort, work well with antihistamines, helping bring down the inflammation in your nose and sinuses to relieve congestion, runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes.
Unlike decongestant nasal sprays such as Afrin or Sinex, nasal steroid sprays can be used once or twice a day over the course of several weeks. Just know that it can take a week or two of consistent use for them to start working. This consistent use helps keep symptoms under control throughout the allergy season.
Oral medications like Sudafed, along with those nasal decongestants mentioned above, can help relieve stuffiness. But you run the risk of side effects that include higher blood pressure, increased heart rate, irritability or insomnia. Because of the potential side effects, decongestants should only be used short-term – three to five days max – when allergies are severe.
Prescription allergy medications
When over-the-counter allergy medications don’t do the trick, a prescription medication like Singulair (montelukast) is also available. Prescription allergy medications can be especially helpful if you have asthma, too.
There is some evidence that vitamin C can help people suffering from seasonal allergies. Vitamin C acts as a natural antihistamine, so it can help reduce allergy symptoms after someone has been exposed to an allergen. Talk to your doctor before adding any vitamins or supplements to your seasonal allergy treatment plan.
Step 2: Know when to take your allergy medications
Did you know you can start taking your allergy medication before symptoms even arrive?
While allergy seasons seem to be starting earlier and lasting longer these days, pollen seasons are somewhat predictable. So, start taking allergy medications about two weeks before the allergy season and your symptoms begin. Then, continue taking them regularly throughout the rest of the season. Once inflammation starts, it may take longer to get relief.
Oral antihistamines take about a half hour to get into your system. Bedtime is a good time to take allergy medications. Many last 24 hours, which means they’ll be working through the next day.
Step 3: Consider nasal washing with sinus rinses
Sinus rinses are a popular seasonal allergy treatment that you can do at home, working well with antihistamines and nasal sprays. The neti pot may be one of the most recognizable sinus rinse products.
A neti pot can be picked up at any local drugstore or online and typically comes with packets to mix with warm, distilled water to create a saltwater solution. Using the pot to pour the solution through your nasal cavities, you can flush out gunk and allergens to reduce swelling and ease symptoms.
Step 4: Avoid allergens when possible
Find out what the pollen level is in your area
Knowing the pollen count and air quality index in your area can help you plan an attack for allergy symptoms. How can you find out? Just turn on your favorite weather report. Many reports include the pollen count in your area. Or go online to Pollen.com.
Taking a trip? The pollen count may be higher where you’re headed. Check the count at your destination and take along medications just in case.
Keep your home safe from allergens
There are many steps you can take around your house to help with seasonal allergies.
Use humidifiers and dehumidifiers at the right times for your allergies
In the spring, summer and early fall, remove excess moisture from the air using a dehumidifier or air conditioner. This can help reduce the growth of mold and mildew spores known to cause some allergies.
In dry winter months, a humidifier can add moisture to a room to soothe dry, irritated nasal passages. Make sure to clean and change the filter regularly. Unfortunately, moisturized air can also cause dust mites to increase.
Change to HEPA filters for your heating and cooling system
A HEPA filter can trap airborne allergens like pollen and pet dander, helping keep more irritants out of the air. Just make sure you’re regularly replacing filters – particularly during high-usage times. A good rule of thumb is to check your filter once a month to see if it needs replacing.
Consider adding an air purifier, too
Air purifiers can also be used to clean finer particles and fumes that your furnace or air conditioning filter can’t catch. There are several different types of air purifiers, and each works differently to clean the air you breathe. So, research your options to determine which may be the best fit for you needs.
Other ways to reduce allergens in your home:
- Keep a clean home by vacuuming twice a week, especially if there are pets in the house.
- Shut the windows and run an air filter (or your heating and cooling system) when pollen levels are high outside.
- Wash your sheets, blankets and pillowcases in hot or warm water every week or two.
- Jump in the shower and wash your hair when you get home to remove pollen particles on your person.
- Wash your clothes after you’ve been outdoors.
- Keep pets out of the bedroom.
Step 5: Talk with your doctor about seasonal allergy testing or allergy shots
Allergy testing can help your care provider diagnose your exact allergies and come up with a treatment plan to help relieve your symptoms.
Allergy tests are pretty simple. The tests are performed on your skin at a clinic that offers allergy testing. This determines what allergens are causing your symptoms.
Depending on how severe your allergies appear to be, your doctor may recommend immunotherapy with allergy shots to help reduce – and maybe even eliminate – your body’s reaction to environmental allergens.
These shots help teach your body to not be allergic and are given over the course of a couple of years until a target dose is reached. Once the right dosage has been reached, your doctor will work with you on a maintenance schedule.
Allergy shots are the most effective way of treating allergies and work better than most prescription medications. A course of allergy shots can give you long-term symptom relief that could last for 5-10 years. Many people have symptom relief the rest of their life.
How much do allergy shots cost?
The cost of allergy shots varies based on a few factors, including how many things you are allergic to and how frequently you need shots to keep your symptoms under control. Shots begin on a weekly basis and, over time, your doctor may reduce your shots to once per month. Typically, the cost is between $2,000 - $4,000 yearly, if you don’t have medical insurance.
The good news is that insurance will usually cover some – maybe even most – of the cost of getting allergy shots. And depending on your plan, you may only need to pay your copay. But check your insurance so you know for sure.
Don’t just “tough it out” if you can’t find relief from your allergy symptoms
No one wants to be miserable. Bad allergies can ruin your quality of life and affect your overall health if symptoms turn into chronic sinusitis, or a sinus or upper respiratory infection. The good thing is you have options.
If you’ve never talked with a doctor about your allergies before, start by making a primary care appointment. Whether you choose a video visit or in-person appointment, your primary care doctor will listen to your symptoms, answer any questions you have and work with you to create a tailored treatment plan – including connecting you with specialists like an allergist or an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose and throat doctor) if needed.
Your doctor can also help make sure if symptoms are related to allergies or COVID-19, a cold or something else.
Have you already been diagnosed with seasonal allergies? Make an in-person appointment with an allergist. If you’re struggling to get relief this season or your allergy symptoms feel like they’re getting worse, you can see an allergist without a referral. Allergists specialize in testing to determine what causes your allergies and the best way to treat them.