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Senior Life: Managing Seasonal Allergy Symptoms


Managing Seasonal Allergy Symptoms

Sunshine, flowers, and warmer weather are all welcomed signs of the arrival of spring. Allergies, however, can be a not-so-enjoyable mark of the season change. Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, affect about 7.8% of adults in the United States. Pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds along with other allergens like pet dander, dust mites, and mold can trigger allergy symptoms. 

Common symptoms of seasonal allergies include:

  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing 
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Fatigue
  • Headache

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, the good news is that strategies to reduce your exposure to things that trigger your allergies exist. Keep in mind that pollen counts are highest in the early morning, so it may be better to wait until later in the day for outdoor activities. Avoid going outside on dry, windy days and delegate lawn duties if possible. You can monitor pollen and mold forecasts and current levels by checking a weather app on your phone, the local newspaper, and/or local TV and radio stations. When high pollen levels are forecasted, consider keeping windows and doors closed and running the air conditioner in your car and home. Additionally, using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your air conditioner can help filter out particles that aggravate allergy symptoms. Running a dehumidifier in your house can help keep the air dry and limit exposure to mold. If you have been outside, showering and washing your hair can be helpful in getting rid of allergens, along with changing into a different set of clothes. Pollen can stick to clothing, so do not hang laundry outdoors.

There are also several over-the-counter medications available to help ease allergy symptoms when avoiding allergy triggers is not possible. 

  • Nasal saline can provide quick congestion relief by irrigating mucus and allergens out of the nasal passages. Some people choose to use a squeeze bottle of nasal saline, while others prefer to use a neti pot. If a neti pot is used, it is important to use distilled water or water that has been boiled and then cooled. Tap water should not be used as it can lead to infections.
  • Nasal corticosteroids, such as fluticasone (Flonase) or triamcinolone acetonide (Nasacort), are the most effective option for allergy sufferers with moderate to severe, persistent symptoms. They help with nasal congestion, a runny and itchy nose, and sneezing. They can be used once daily and some can be used in children 2 years of age and older. Make sure not to spray towards the septum of your nose when using these products in order to limit irritation and nosebleeds.
  • Second-generation oral antihistamines can be used for mild or intermittent symptoms. This class of medication includes cetirizine (Zyrtec), levocetirizine (Xyzal), loratadine (Claritin), and fexofenadine (Allegra). These medications help with sneezing, runny nose, itchy and watery eyes. They do not help with nasal congestion unless they are in combination with an oral decongestant. All of these medications have similar efficacy, but drowsiness can occur in about 10% of people that use cetirizine. First generation oral antihistamines, like diphenhydramine (Benadryl), should be avoided because they do not work better and they can cause drowsiness and confusion. Ophthalmic antihistamines are available if eye symptoms persist.
  • Decongestants like pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) can provide relief for nasal congestion. As mentioned above, these can come in combination products with oral antihistamines. If you have high blood pressure that is not well controlled, it is recommended that you avoid taking a decongestant. Nasal decongestants, such as oxymetazoline (Afrin) and phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine), are other available products; however, these can only be used for a few days in a row. If used longer, they can worsen symptoms by causing rebound congestion.

Talk to your doctor about your allergy symptoms and always provide an up-to-date list of prescription and nonprescription medications when you have an appointment. Speak to your pharmacist if you have questions about if an over-the-counter medication is right for you.

Jackie Thomas, Pharm.D.

Courtney Feist, Pharm.D.


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