Skip to main content

HealthPartners pharmacist provides recommendations for treating spring allergies

It’s not too soon to begin taking allergy medication

March 10, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — A milder winter caused by El Niño could bring an earlier and more intense allergy season this year. As temperatures rise, more pollen is being released into the air. According to the National Allergy Bureau Pollen and Mold report, tree pollens are already at high levels in Minnesota.

While there’s no cure for allergies, or hay fever, Sarah Groen, a HealthPartners clinical pharmacist, has tips about the best over-the-counter medications that can help relieve allergy symptoms.

Allergy or cold? The symptoms of an allergy and a cold can be similar. If you have a sore throat and body aches you may have a cold. Allergies don’t typically cause body aches. Symptoms of allergies include sneezing, running nose or nasal congestion, itchy eyes, nose, throat or ears, headaches, coughing or under eye circles.

Home treatment and over-the-counter medications:

  • Choose newer antihistamines. In response to tree and plant pollen, immune cells release a chemical (histamine) which cause allergy symptoms. Older antihistamine medications, such as Benadryl, can cause drowsiness. Instead, choose newer medications like Claritin, Allegra and Zyrtec, which don’t have this side effect.
  • Use nasal steroid sprays. These medications reduce nasal swelling and two formulations are now available over-the-counter (Flonase and Nasacort). Nasal sprays are a good option for patients who do not get enough allergy relief from the oral antihistamines alone, especially if nasal symptoms are the main concern. These nasal sprays may take a little longer to work. They are safe and are different from the anabolic steroids that some athletes take.
  • Take medications early. Begin taking medications as early as two weeks before pollen counts are high. Once nasal and air passages are inflamed, medication isn’t as effective.
  • Natural remedies. Use a neti pot to rinse nasal passages daily with a salt water solution. This can help reduce swelling in nasal passages.
  • Keep allergens out of your home. Close windows and vacuum twice a week. Take a shower, wash your hair and change clothing to remove pollen particles when you get home; and keep pets off your bed since pollen can cling to animal fur.
  • Be careful of decongestants. Medications such as Sudafed and nasal sprays can relieve congestion. However, decongestants can raise blood pressure, so they typically aren’t recommended for people who have high blood pressure problems or glaucoma. Other side effects include insomnia, increased heart rate and irritability.

About HealthPartners

HealthPartners is the largest consumer-governed, non-profit health care organization in the nation with a mission to improve health and well-being in partnership with members, patients and the community. For more information, visit

Back to top