How to Treat Seasonal Allergies

For millions of allergy sufferers, spring and summer mean sneezing, runny noses and itchy eyes. Plumes of pollen from trees, grasses and plants (such as ragweed) get released into the air and trigger seasonal allergies — also referred to as hay fever and allergic rhinitis — for nearly 1 in 4 American adults and nearly 1 in 5 children.

With experts expecting a longer, more severe allergy season this year, many people are looking for allergy relief. Here’s what you need to know about seasonal allergies and how to manage your symptoms.

[READ: When Allergy or Cold Medicine Makes You Drowsy.]

When Is Allergy Season?

In the U.S., May is typically the worst month for allergies due to the increase in pollen counts from trees and grass across the country. However, seasonal allergies can occur year-round, depending on where you live, where certain plants grow and when they bloom and release pollen.

Summer allergies are typically triggered by grass pollen and generally start in June and go through September. during the winter months, cedar trees release plumes of pollen in the South, giving rise to “cedar fever.” In the Midwest, birch, oak, pine and elm trees start pollinating in the early spring followed by a heavy grass pollen season. Timothy and Bermuda grasses are two major allergy-triggering culprits in the spring and early summer. Ragweed releases its pollen in the fall.

“There are hundreds of different weeds, trees and grasses that all produce pollen,” explains Dr. David Corry, professor of medicine in the section of immunology, allergy and rheumatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Therefore, the timing and location of the allergy season, he explains, “is an issue of botany.”

[READ: How Seasonal Allergies Can Impact Mental Health]

Seasonal Allergy Symptoms

Common allergy symptoms include:

— Sneezing

— Runny nose

— Itchy, watery eyes

— Sore, scratchy throat

— Coughing

— Sinus congestion

— Fatigue

Allergies can also cause coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing in people with asthma.

“These symptoms are actually very bothersome and can affect not only your nose and your lungs, but they can affect your daily life and quality of living,” says Dr. Anju Peters, an allergy and immunology specialist at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. “It can definitely affect your overall school performance, work performance and mental well-being in general.”

[READ: Allergies or Cold: What’s the Difference?]

Seasonal Allergy Causes

Seasonal allergies occur when an allergen — such as pollen from trees, grass and weeds or mold spores — enters the body. In response, the immune system overreacts and produces antibodies, called immunoglobulin E (IgE), that signal to cells to release histamines, a chemical that fights off invaders, causing allergy symptoms.

The most common allergens include:

— Alder

— Ash

— Birch

— Cedar

— Elm

— Grass

— Maple

— Mugwort

— Mulberry

— Oak

— Pine

— Ragweed

— Sagebrush

— Mold

Treatments for Allergies

There is a wide variety of over-the-counter medications, as well as prescription drugs, that can help you manage your symptoms and keep hay fever at bay.

Allergy medications

There are several over-the-counter allergy medications that can safely and effectively treat symptoms for most people with mild or moderate allergies.

Oral antihistamines: While diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and hydroxyzine are common antihistamines, they are considered older, first-generation allergy medications that tend to have a long list of side effects, such as sedation, drowsiness, fatigue and impaired alertness. Instead, experts recommend second-generation antihistamines — including cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin) and fexofenadine (Allegra) — to treat seasonal allergies because they are longer lasting and more effective with minimal side effects.

Nasal corticosteroid sprays: Fluticasone propionate (Flonase Allergy Relief), nasal triamcinolone (Nasacort AQ) and budesonide (Rhinocort AQUA) are safe and effective intranasal treatments for seasonal allergies. In contrast, OTC decongestant nasal sprays such as Afrin, Sinex and Neosynephrine should only be used a few days for congestion, or you can develop “nasal rebound” and worse congestion. Unlike nasal decongestant sprays, such as Afrin, nasal steroid sprays are not habit-forming and can be used regularly. Saline nasal sprays and gels can also be effective for flushing out pollen from your nose and sinuses. Make sure you get the right nasal spray.

Antihistamine eye drops: Allergy eye drops deliver antihistamines to your eyes to help relieve redness, itchiness and wateriness.

For kids and adolescents who suffer from seasonal allergies, there are several options for children’s allergy medicine.

It’s best to start taking antihistamines before you have symptoms, say experts. That’s because by the time histamine (a chemical that’s part of the immune response) is released and a person has symptoms such as nasal congestion, itching and sneezing, histamines are already present. If you start taking antihistamines before symptoms appear, they can block histamine before it has an effect on you.

If your allergy symptoms have a pretty consistent seasonal pattern, it’s best to start taking antihistamines on a daily basis a week or two before the offending type of pollen emerges. Since the release of pollens can vary from year to year, allergists often recommend starting your medication regimen in early February if you’re allergic to trees, early June if you’re allergic to grasses and early August if you’re allergic to ragweed.

Keep in mind, though, that while antihistamines help with sneezing and itchiness, they usually don’t help with nasal stuffiness, which is better relieved by using a nasal steroid spray along with an antihistamine. Since nasal steroid sprays take a week or two to have the desired anti-inflammatory effects, you should also start using these before symptoms appear.

Can honey cure your allergies?

Eating local honey won’t control your spring allergies.

“This myth comes from the idea that, since bees carry pollen, some of that pollen would get into the honey they make,” explains Dr. Michael Blaise. “The theory is that by eating local honey, you’re consuming pollen grains — which in turn ‘desensitize’ you to your allergies. It’s a good thought, but the pollen that triggers allergy isn’t transported by bees. It’s the wrong type of pollen. Feel free to eat local honey because it tastes good, but it won’t help your spring allergies.”


Those who have moderate to severe or very severe allergies that do not respond to over-the-counter remedies should meet with an allergist or another health care professional who is equipped to conduct allergy tests in order to identify exactly what you’re allergic to. Based on those results, experts may recommend allergen immunotherapy, more commonly referred to as allergy shots.

Allergy shots are essentially a “very slow, long-term form of vaccination,” Corry explains. This treatment consists of injecting a very low dose of the allergen under the skin, then gradually building up the dosage over a period of days, weeks or months to train your immune system. Allergen immunotherapy can also be administered in tablet form, known as sublingual immunotherapy. The tablets, which are placed under the tongue and swallowed, are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for ragweed, grass pollen and dust mites.

“The goal and the intent of immunotherapy is to change how your immune system responds to whatever you’re allergic to,” Corry says. “The immune system essentially removes these irritants from your system, degrades them and expels them from your body without you experiencing any symptoms.”

Allergies and asthma

Seasonal allergies can also trigger asthma flare-ups. Sometimes this phenomenon is referred to as allergic asthma, which means that allergens trigger asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness or shortness of breath. An injectable drug called Xolair (omalizumab) is designed to treat moderate to severe persistent allergic asthma.

Lifestyle changes to minimize allergies

In addition to medications, there are lifestyle strategies you can use to minimize the unpleasant effects of seasonal allergies.

Monitor pollen counts. No one wants to be stuck indoors to avoid pollen. Instead, monitor your local pollen and mold levels and allergen forecast through weather apps or the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s National Allergy Bureau website. Plan to spend time outdoors when allergen counts are low.

Wear a mask. The masks we used to protect against the spread of COVID-19 are also effective for preventing pollen from getting into your airways. If you know you’ll be outside during peak pollen time or gardening, wearing an N95 mask will keep the allergens at bay.

Don’t wear shoes in the house. Taking your shoes off before entering the house is a common Asian practice. While the tradition is believed to protect against bringing bad luck into the house, it is also an effective way to maintain good hygiene and clean floors, as your shoes can track outdoor dirt, bacteria and pollen into the house.

Change your clothes. Similar to removing your shoes, changing your clothes when you get home will reduce the amount of pollen that you introduce into the house.

Wash your bedsheets regularly. Hypoallergenic bed sheets and pillow cases can help with dust mite and mold allergies, but when it comes to reducing pollen, your best bet will be to wash your bedding often. This is especially important if you have pets that like to sleep in bed with you. Because pollen, along with dirt and other allergens, can stick to their coat, your furry friend is likely bringing in particles that may aggravate allergies.

Use air filters. Portable air purifiers with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can help remove 99.97% of pollen, dust, dander and other allergens circulating in your bedroom. For your whole house, consider installing an air filter in your central heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology encourages using an air filter with a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating of 11 to 13.

[READ: When to See an Allergist.]

Long-Term Effects of Seasonal Allergies

In addition to physical discomfort, seasonal allergies can be disruptive to your daily life and health if left untreated. The congestion and sneezing can disturb your sleep, which — in turn — sets off a chain reaction of detrimental health effects. Sleep deficiency is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, obesity and depression. In older adults, sleep deficiency can affect balance and lead to a greater potential for falls.

“Taking care of allergies is very much an important issue to gain that quality of life that we all need and deserve,” Corry says. “Getting good quality sleep is actually a matter of life and/or death, literally. You can get into a chronic deficit of sleep that can absolutely impair your quality of life and lead to serious health problems that can be fatal over years of sleep deprivation.”

Bottom Line

Ultimately, pollen is a fact of life. You can only avoid it for so long, but thankfully, you can nip pesky allergy symptoms in the bud.

“You don’t have to suffer,” Peters says. “We have good treatment options, so you can try over-the-counter medications or go see an allergist … to tailor your treatment based on what you’re allergic to.”

More from U.S. News

How Seasonal Allergies Can Impact Mental Health

Allergies or Cold: What’s the Difference?

Flu vs. the Common Cold

How to Treat Seasonal Allergies originally appeared on

Update 05/13/24: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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