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.

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 medicines, such as nasal sprays, eye drops, or pills, may help with some symptoms. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

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.
  • Headache and fatigue.
  • Dark circles under the eyes ("allergic shiners").
  • Drainage from the nose down the back of the throat (postnasal drip).
  • Coughing or the need to clear the throat of drainage.

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 are seasonal allergies treated?

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

  • Try to avoid the things you are allergic to (allergens). For example, limit the time you spend outside when pollen counts are high.
  • Use saline (saltwater) nasal washes. This can help keep your nasal passages open and wash out mucus and allergens.
  • Manage your symptoms with medicine. Over-the-counter nasal sprays, pills, liquids or eye drops may relieve some of your symptoms. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Nasal steroid sprays tend to work the best for nose symptoms and have fewer side effects then other options. These help relieve an itchy, stuffy, or runny nose, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes. An example is fluticasone (Flonase).
    • Antihistamines help allergy symptoms. Pills or liquids are often used for a runny or itchy nose, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes. Try a nondrowsy antihistamine, like fexofenadine (such as Allegra) or loratadine (such as Claritin). Don't give antihistamines to your child unless you've checked with the doctor first. Nasal antihistamine sprays are also an option. They tend to work better for stuffy noses than the pills. Antihistamine eye drops such as ketotifen (Zaditor) help with eye symptoms.
    • Sometimes decongestants can be used for a more severe stuffy nose. Pseudoephedrine comes in pill and liquid forms. It may not be safe for young children, for people who have certain health problems, or for those who are pregnant. If used, decongestant nasal sprays should only be used for a few days. An example is Oxymetazoline (Afrin).

If your symptoms still bother you, talk to your doctor. Other medicines may be helpful. And ask your doctor if immunotherapy might help you. For this treatment, you get allergy 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.

How can you prevent them?

Seasonal allergies are often caused by being exposed to pollen. When you can, reduce your exposure by:

  • Keeping your house and car windows closed. Use an air conditioner to help filter out allergens.
  • Limiting the time you spend outside when pollen counts are high. Your local weather may report pollen counts. They are also available online.
  • Limiting your mowing tasks. Wear a pollen mask or dust mask if you need to mow the lawn.
  • Rinsing your eyes with cool water or saline eyedrops to remove clinging pollen after you come indoors. You can also use saline (saltwater) nasal washes. This can help keep your nasal passages open and wash out mucus and allergens.
  • Taking a shower and changing your clothes after you work or play outside.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: September 25, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

© 1995-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.